Injection Parameters That Promote Branching of Hydraulic Cracks

Wenfeng Li*, Luke P. Frash, J. William Carey, Nathan J. Welch, Meng Meng, Hoang Nguyen, Hari S. Viswanathan, Esteban Rougier, Zhou Lei, Saeed Rahimi-Aghdam, Zdenek P. Bažant

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Fluid injection into rock formations can either produce complex branched hydraulic fractures, create simple planar fractures, or be dominated by porous diffusion. Currently, the optimum injection parameters to create branched fractures are unknown. We conducted repeatable hydraulic fracturing experiments using analog-rock samples with controlled heterogeneity to quantify the fluid parameters that promote fracture branching. A large range of injection rates and fluid viscosities were used to investigate their effects on induced fracture patterns. Paired with a simple analytical model, our results identify the threshold at which fracture transitions from an isolated planar crack to branched cracks when closed natural fractures exist. These results demonstrate that this transition can be controlled by injection rate and fluid viscosity. In relation to the field practices, the present model predicts slickwater and lower viscosity fluid injections promote fracture branching, with the Marcellus shale used as an example.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2021GL093321
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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