Characterization of a hydraulically induced bedrock fracture
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Hydraulic fracturing is a controversial practice because of concerns about environmental impacts due to its widespread use in recovering unconventional petroleum and natural gas deposits. However, water-only hydraulic fracturing has been used safely and successfully for many years to increase the permeability of aquifers used for drinking and irrigation water supply. This process extends and widens existing bedrock fractures, allowing groundwater storage to increase. Researchers have studied the behavior of fractured-rock aquifers for decades, but little has been published on the hydraulic and mechanical properties of hydraulically enhanced fractures. In this study, a multi-faceted approach consisting of aquifer and tracer testing is used to estimate the transmissivity and storage coefficient of a hydraulically induced fracture and observe its behavior as a contaminant flow pathway. The results of the aquifer tests indicated a decrease in both the transmissivity and storage coefficient of the fracture of three orders of magnitude after cessation of pumping. The aquifer temporarily experienced incomplete recovery following pumping tests, likely due to slow recharge. After complete recovery occurred, subsequent tests showed that these hydraulic properties returned to their original values, indicating elastic compression of the fracture during periods of applied stress. The results of the tracer test indicated rapid, uniform, one-dimensional flow through the fracture, with average fluid velocity approaching 1 km/day in an induced steady flow field of 6 x 10-5 m3/s (1 gal/min) and a fracture volume of 0.238 m3 (63 gal). The complex heterogeneity of fractured-rock aquifers necessitates the use of multiple lines of testing in order to arrive at a detailed description of the behavior of these systems. This study demonstrates one effective method of investigating a single fracture that can uncover information about the behavior of a hydraulically enhanced aquifer that is otherwise difficult to obtain.
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