The evolution of frictional strength, stability, and fracture permeability is intimately linked both to the seismic cycle and to the impact of hydraulic stimulation for fractured reservoirs. However, despite this importance, the poromechanical relationships between fault permeability and strength remain unclear. The present study explores this relationship via laboratory experiments for concurrent shear-flow on smooth fractures of Westerly granite. The novelty of these experiments is that the shear velocity is precisely controlled during the measurement of fracture permeability. Results indicate permeability enhancement during velocity-weakening (potentially unstable) frictional slip. To decipher key processes contributing to this response, we evaluate the state of contacting asperities and of fracture surface asperities via digital rock fracture modeling of statistically equivalent surfaces. We propose two plausible mechanisms constraining the relationship between friction and permeability evolution—one based on changes in asperity contact distribution and one on shear-induced dilation triggered by changes in fault slip velocity. These mechanisms should be taken into account in interpreting field observation such as the abrupt permeability increase of natural faults at the onset of seismic slip.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Water Science and Technology