The role of stress history on the flow of fluids through fractures

Sathar, S.; Reeves, H.; Cuss, R.J.; Harrington, J.F.; Evans, Nicholas. 2012 The role of stress history on the flow of fluids through fractures. Mineralogical Magazine, 76 (8). 3165-3177.​minmag.2012.076.8.30

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Understanding flow along fractures and faults is of importance to the performance assessment (PA) of a geological disposal facility (GDF) for radioactive waste. Flow can occur along pre-existing fractures in the host-rock or along fractures created during the construction of the GDF within the excavation damage zone (EDZ). The complex fracture network will have a range of orientations and will exist within a complex stress regime. Critical stress theory suggests that fractures close to localized shear failure are critically stressed and therefore most conductive to fluid flow. Analysis of fault geometry and stress conditions at Sellafield has revealed that no features were found to be, or even close to being, classified as critically stressed, despite some being conductive. In order to understand the underlying reasons why non-critically stressed fractures were conductive a series of laboratory experiments were performed. A bespoke angled shear rig (ASR) was built in order to study the relationship between fluid flow (water and gas) through a fracture surface as a function of normal load. Fluid flow reduced with an increase in normal load, as expected. During unloading considerable hysteresis was seen in flow and shear stress. Fracture flow was only partially recovered for water injection, whereas gas flow increased remarkably during unloading. The ratio of shear stress to normal stress seems to control the fluid flow properties during the unloading stage of the experiment demonstrating its significance in fracture flow. The exhumation of the Sellafield area during the Palaeogene–Neogene resulted in considerable stress relaxation and in fractures becoming non-critically stressed. The hysteresis in shear stress during uplift has resulted in faults remaining, or becoming, conductive. The field and laboratory observations illustrate that understanding the stress-history of a fractured rock mass is essential, and a mere understanding of the current stress regime is insufficient to estimate the flow characteristics of present-day fractures.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):​minmag.2012.076.8.30
Programmes: BGS Programmes 2010 > Minerals and waste
Date made live: 12 Feb 2013 13:33 +0 (UTC)

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