Fracture behavior of Longmaxi shale with implications for subsurface applications

Interpretation 8 (4):SP205-SP213 (2020)


Fracture mechanical properties of shales have gained continued interest recently due to their critical role in many shale-related applications such as unconventional petroleum systems and subsurface carbon and waste disposal. However, due to their strong reactive nature to fluids, fracture mechanical properties of shales have not been extensively studied like other rock types. A more comprehensive understanding of fracture system development in shales under reactive fluids is needed for subsurface applications. We have measured fracture mechanical properties of Longmaxi shale outcrop samples in the Sichuan Basin, China, under different environments of ambient air, deionized water, saline fluids of NaCl and KCl at 0.5 M concentration, and acidic HCl fluid at pH of 5. All aqueous fluids tested show strong weakening effects on fracture propagation compared to the air environment, with the fracture toughness reduced by 75% and the subcritical fracture growth index reduced by 50%. Microstructural analysis reveals the predominantly grain boundary opening cracking mode for all tests, but the fracture traces branch more in reactive aqueous fluids. Natural fractures are comparable with artificial fractures in morphology. Bedding-perpendicular opening mode fractures with multiple-stage fracture fillings of calcite, quartz, and organic matters develop well in natural fractures. Our results suggest that clay mineral hydration and expansion are the main cause for the fluid weakening effect in Longmaxi shale, which has substantial implications for subsurface shale failure processes.

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