Natural fractures seem to be ubiquitous in shale gas plays. It is often said that their presence is one of the most critical factors in defining an economic or prospective shale gas play. Many investigators have presumed that open natural fractures are critical to gas production from deeper plays such as the Barnett, as they are for shallower gas shales such as the Devonian shales of the northeastern US and for coal bed methane plays. A common view on production mechanisms in shales is "because the formations are so tight gas can be produced only when extensive networks of natural fractures exist" . However, there is now a growing body of evidence that any natural fractures that do exist may well be filled with calcite or other minerals and it has even been suggested that open natural fractures would in fact be detrimental to Barnett shale gas production .
Commercial exploitation of low mobility gas reservoirs has been improved with multi-stage hydraulic fracturing of long horizontal wells. Favorable results have been associated with large fracture surface area in contact with the shale matrix and it is here that the role of natural fractures is assumed to be critical. For largely economic reasons hydraulic fracturing for increasing production from shale gas reservoirs is often carried out using large volumes of slickwater injected at pressures/rates high enough to create and propagate extensive hydraulic fracture systems. The fracture systems are often complex, due essentially to intersection of the hydraulic fractures with the natural fracture network. After hydraulic fracturing operations the injected water is flowed back. Typically, only a small percentage (on the or-der of 20 to 40%) is recovered.