Self-funded PhD opportunities

Coupled fluid-fracture mechanics in the applied geosciences: A new laboratory method for measuring hydraulic fracture permeability at reservoir conditions.

  • Application end date: Applications open all year round
  • Funding Availability: Self-funded PhD students only
  • Department: School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
  • PhD Supervisor: Dr Philip Benson, Dr Nick Koor, Dr Gareth Swift

Project code: SEES4431018

Project description

The safe operation of hydraulic fracturing facilities requires not only knowledge of the fracture mechanics of mudrock, but also how the newly generated fractures influence the macro-scale rock mass stability via increased pore fluid pressure. The necessary generation of fractures, in order to create permeable fracture networks, generates seismic energy that may be used both as a diagnostic indicator of the extent of the fracture network, as well as a safety control for the purpose of risk mitigation and control. To better understand these issues this project will apply well-constrained laboratory fracture mechanics tools, calibrated to known fluid pressure and stress, to link measured permeability of freshly generated fracture networks to the microseismic response, as a function of burial conditions.

The laboratory setup will mimic the field geometry: pressurising a central borehole to fracture an outer shell of rock in tension, simulating a range of depths (up to 4km) by using high pressure hydraulics. This method has been validated by the iCASE NERC project NE/L009110/1. The laboratory microseismic dataset will be inputted to relative 3D hypocentre location tools to investigate the speed and movement of the fracture event. Fracture area and size, will be derived from the spatio-temporal data, validated by post-test X-ray Computed Tomography. Crucially, these data will be directly correlated with the fracture permeability, unlike the typical field scenario. This suite of laboratory permeability experiments will then be repeated, to test how easily the faults are reactivated (or otherwise) as a function of pore pressure magnitude and ramp rate, and, finally, extended to field conditions via engineering geotechnical stability models using MatLab and YADE (open source and free use).

The novelty of the project lies in the use of a new 3D printed ‘jacket’ which will – for the first time – allow the fluids flowing through the newly generated fracture set to be received and measured as a function of time, allowing the permeability of the fracture to be directly measured as a function of the above variables. Then, by adding micro-beads to the injecting fluid, the project aims to establish new protocols for how easily fractures might be ‘propped’ open to maintain the permeability network. Such data is of direct relevance to the unconventional hydrocarbon industry in order to produce resources responsibly and efficiently.

Supervisor profiles

Dr Phil Benson

Dr Nick Koor

Dr Gareth Swift

Admissions criteria

You’ll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (depending upon chosen course, minimum second class or equivalent) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. Exceptionally, equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications will be considered. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.  


Informal enquiries are encouraged and can be made to Dr Phil Benson at (02392 842255), or Dr Nick Koor at (02392 842413)

For administrative and admissions enquiries please contact

How to Apply

You can apply online at  You are required to create an account which gives you the flexibility to save the form, log out and return to it at any time convenient to you.

A link to the online application form and comprehensive guidance notes can be found at

When applying, please quote project code: SEES4431018

Interview date: TBC

Start date: October 2018.

Funding notes

This is self-funded project, for infomration on fees and funding, please see our webpages.

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