How reactive fluids alter fracture walls and affect shale-matrix accessibility

Monday, 15 December 2014: 5:25 PM
Jeffrey P Fitts, Hang Deng and Catherine A Peters, Princeton University, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton, NJ, United States
Predictions of mass transfer across fracture boundaries and fluid flow in fracture networks provide fundamental inputs into risk and life cycle assessments of geologic energy technologies including oil and gas extraction, geothermal energy systems and geologic CO2 storage. However, major knowledge gaps exist due to the lack of experimental observations of how reactive fluids alter the pore structures and accessible surface area within fracture boundaries that control the mass transfer of organics, metals and salts, and influence fluid flow within the fracture. To investigate the fracture and rock matrix properties governing fracture boundary alteration, we developed a new flow-through cell that enables time-dependent 2D x-ray imaging of mineral dissolution and/or precipitation at a fracture surface. The parallel plate design provides an idealized fracture geometry to investigate the relationship between flow rate, reaction rate, and mineral spatial heterogeneity and variation. In the flow-cell, a carbonate-rich sample of Eagle Ford shale was reacted with acidified brine. The extent and rate of mineral dissolution were correlated with calcite abundance relative to less soluble silicate minerals. Three-dimensional x-ray tomography of the reacted fracture wall shows how calcite dissolution left behind a porous network of silicate minerals. And while this silicate network essentially preserved the location of the initial fracture wall, the pore network structures within the fracture boundary were dramatically altered, such that the accessible surface area of matrix components increased significantly. In a second set of experiments with a limestone specimen, however, the extent of dissolution and retreat of the fracture wall was not strictly correlated with the occurrence of calcite. Instead, the pattern and extent of dissolution suggested secondary causes such as calcite morphology, the presence of argillaceous minerals and other diagenetic features. Our experiments show that while calcite dissolution is the primary geochemical driver of fracture wall alterations, hydrodynamic properties and matrix accessibility within fracture boundaries evolve based on a complex relationship between mineral spatial heterogeneity and variation, fluid chemistry and flow rate.