Staged hydraulic fracturing in horizontal wells is one of the most popular techniques in developing conventional and unconventional reservoirs, where multiple fractures initiate and propagate simultaneously and then interact with each other. It is shown in hydraulic fracturing practices that these interactions lead to unsatisfactory production performance in many fractures. It is of great importance to develop a reliable hydraulic fracturing simulator that can completely effectively take these interactions into account and predict fracture behavior accurately.

We develop a fully coupled 3D hydraulic fracturing simulator with the finite element method, where the interaction between fractures is completely taken into account. We develop a finite element equation to describe fracturing deformation and propagation based on linear elastic fracture mechanics, another one to describe fluid flow and leak-off within fractures, and friction equations to describe the effects of the perforations and tortuosity. We solve these three equations in a fully coupled and implicit way, and obtain fluid pressure, fracture width, and injection allocations between fractures in every step simultaneously.

Followed by the method’s verification with experiments, we simulated staged hydraulic fracturing with the coupled finite element simulator and investigated the interactions’ effects. It was found in the simulation that the perforations have the ability to make the injection allocated very even. However, fractures propagate and evolve in very different manners due to the interaction between fractures. Some fractures are far longer than others, while their fracture widths close to the wellbore are far smaller. Due to the stress shadows arising from the fracture interactions, some wellbore zones in the longer fractures never break, and in these fractures their widths around the tip zones are larger than those around the wellbore zones.

Insights from the simulations are helpful to understand the mechanisms leading to the unsatisfactory production performance of the fractures, and the simulator can therefore be used to optimize staged hydraulic fracturing.

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