Positron emission tomography (PET) continues to have wide-ranging medical application and is based on the detection of gamma radiation emitted from the decay of certain types of radionuclides. Modern PET scanners produce three-dimensional (3D) images of the radiation source, in discrete time steps, using tomography analysis. This paper presents an application of PET for studying fluid mobility in pressurized low-permeability rock samples in the presence of natural fractures. This technique uses a high-resolution PET scanner and image reconstruction based on filtered back-projection. Traditional techniques have been limited to pressure measurement of fracture conductivity and effective permeability, but little is understood about the dynamic flow and velocity profiles within the fracture.

The objective of this work was to investigate if it is possible to measure the time-lapse distribution of the fluid flow as a function of the overburden stress. PET imaging was applied to the flow of brine solution, which was tagged with 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) positron emitting radionuclide, through nonfractured sandstone and naturally fractured shale cores. A special composite container was manufactured to sustain high-pressure conditions and minimize the absorption of emitted gamma rays. The experimental apparatus is described, and it is demonstrated that the 3D images obtained with a grid resolution of 2 × 2 × 2 mm3 allow clear determination of the fluid flow rate through the core as a function of overburden pressure and time. PET images are direct observations of the radiation source and allow an unambiguous determination of the fluid distribution in the core. The results of this research can be used to validate the numerical modeling of fluid flow through fractured rock matrices, to enable more accurate estimates on the directionality of fractures from the fluid distribution as a function of time, and to obtain more quantitatively sound estimates of fracture connectivity.

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