Date: June 1, 2006
Creator: Stephen L. Karner, Ph.D
Description: Laboratory experiments provide a wealth of information related to mechanics of fracture initiation, fracture propagation processes, factors influencing fault strength, and spatio-temporal evolution of fracture properties. Much of the existing literature reports on laboratory studies involving a coupling of thermal, hydraulic, mechanical, and/or chemical processes. As these processes operate within subsurface environments exploited for their energy resource, laboratory results provide insights into factors influencing the mechanical and hydraulic properties of geothermal systems. I report on laboratory observations of strength and fluid transport properties during deformation of simulated faults. The results show systematic trends that vary with stress state, deformation rate, thermal conditions, fluid content, and rock composition. When related to geophysical and geologic measurements obtained from engineered geothermal systems (e.g. microseismicity, wellbore studies, tracer analysis), laboratory results provide a means by which the evolving thermal reservoir can be interpreted in terms of physico-chemical processes. For example, estimates of energy release and microearthquake locations from seismic moment tensor analysis can be related to strength variations observed from friction experiments. Such correlations between laboratory and field data allow for better interpretations about the evolving mechanical and fluid transport properties in the geothermal reservoir – ultimately leading to improvements in managing the resource.
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