This paper investigates the effect of anisotropic behavior of caprock shales on the caprock failure pressure in SAGD projects. Shales and mudstones exhibit strong anisotropy at the micro and macro scales. However, the anisotropic behavior has been neglected in the existing published works on this subject.

In this research project, a coupled hydro-thermo-mechanical model was developed for the assessment of caprock integrity in thermal operations. A transversely isotropic constitutive model in the elastic range was combined with an anisotropic failure criterion to capture the intrinsic anisotropy of the cap shale. The coupled tool was validated against field data and employed in a study to determine the effect of shale anisotropic behavior on the pressure associated with caprock breach.

Results display the effect of shale anisotropy on caprock response in terms of deformations, stresses and failure pressure. The assumption of isotropic shale behavior in caprock integrity assessment for a case study resulted in the overestimation of the failure pressure by about 10%.

Existing numerical models for evaluating the integrity of caprocks during thermal operations employ isotropic constitutive laws. These models are believed to be deficient in capturing strongly anisotropic response of shales and mudstones. The research described in this paper incorporated elasto-plastic shale anisotropy in the caprock failure analysis model for the first time. The paper demonstrates the importance of capturing shale anisotropy in the accurate prediction of caprock breach pressure in SAGD projects.

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