Propagation of a hydraulic fracture parallel to a free surface

X. Zhang, R. G. Jeffrey, Emmanuel Detournay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Scopus citations


This paper analyses the plane strain problem of a fracture, driven by injection of an incompressible viscous Newtonian fluid, which propagates parallel to the free surface of an elastic half-plane. The problem is governed by a hyper-singular integral equation, which relates crack opening to net pressure according to elasticity, and by the lubrication equations which describe the laminar fluid flow inside the fracture. The challenge in solving this problem results from the changing nature of the elasticity operator with growth of the fracture, and from the existence of a lag zone of a priori unknown length between the crack tip and the fluid front. Scaling of the governing equations indicates that the evolution problem depends in general on two numbers, one which can be interpreted as a dimensionless toughness and the other as a dimensionless confining stress. The numerical method adopted to solve this non-linear evolution problem combines the displacement discontinuity method and a finite difference scheme on a fixed grid, together with a technique to track both crack and fluid fronts. It is shown that the solution evolves in time between two asymptotic similarity solutions. The small time asymptotic solution corresponding to the solution of a hydraulic fracture in an infinite medium under zero confining stress, and the large time to a solution where the aperture of the fracture is similar to the transverse deflection of a beam clamped at both ends and subjected to a uniformly distributed load. It is shown that the size of the lag decreases (to eventually vanish) with increasing toughness and compressive confining stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1317-1340
Number of pages24
JournalInternational Journal for Numerical and Analytical Methods in Geomechanics
Issue number13
StatePublished - Nov 2005


  • Hydraulic fracturing
  • Numerical solution


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