Date of Award

Spring 1999

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering - (Ph.D.)


Civil and Environmental Engineering

First Advisor

John R. Schuring

Second Advisor

Paul C. Chan

Third Advisor

Edward G. Dauenheimer

Fourth Advisor

Robert Dresnack

Fifth Advisor

John W. Ryon


The objective of this study was the development of a new computer program called PF-Model to analyze pneumatic fracturing of geologic formations. Pneumatic fracturing is an in situ remediation process that involves injecting high pressure gas into soil or rock matrices to enhance permeability, as well as to introduce liquid and solid amendments. PF-Model has two principal components: (1) Site Screening, which heuristically evaluates sites with regard to process applicability; and (2) System Design, which uses the numerical solution of a coupled algorithm to generate preliminary design parameters.

Designed as an expert system, the Site Screening component is a high performance computer program capable of simulating human expertise within a narrow domain. The reasoning process is controlled by the inference engine, which uses subjective probability theory (based on Bayes' theorem) to handle uncertainty. The expert system also contains an extensive knowledge base of geotechnical data related to field performance of pneumatic fracturing. The hierarchical order of importance established for the geotechnical properties was formation type, depth, consistency/relative density, plasticity, fracture frequency, weathering, and depth of water table.

The expert system was validated by a panel of five experts who rated selected sites on the applicability of the three main variants of pneumatic fracturing. Overall, PF-Model demonstrated better than an 80% agreement with the expert panel.

The System Design component was programmed with structured algorithms to accomplish two main functions: (1) to estimate fracture aperture and radius (Fracture Prediction Mode); and (2) to calibrate post-fracture Young's modulus and pneumatic conductivity (Calibration Mode). The Fracture Prediction Mode uses numerical analysis to converge on a solution by considering the three coupled physical processes that affect fracture propagation: pressure distribution, leakoff, and deflection. The Calibration Mode regresses modulus using a modified deflection equation, and then converges on the conductivity in a method similar to the Fracture Prediction Mode.

The System Design component was validated and calibrated for each of the 14 different geologic formation types supported by the program. Validation was done by comparing the results of PF-Model to the original mathematical model. For the calibration process, default values for flow rate, density, Poisson's ratio, modulus, and pneumatic conductivity were established by regression until the model simulated, in general, actual site behavior.

PF-Model was programmed in Visual Basic 5.0 and features a menu driven GUI. Three extensive default libraries are provided: probabilistic knowledge base, flownet shape factors, and geotechnical defaults. Users can conveniently access and modify the default libraries to reflect evolving trends and knowledge.

Recommendations for future study are included in the work.