Shales are one of the most heterogeneous and complex natural materials found. Recent spike in the activities in shale gas and oil plays has been possible through horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, which requires better understanding of mechanical properties. Complexities associated with elastic properties of shale are amplified with presence of wide range of organic fraction present in them. There is a need to understand the mechanical properties of organics and their associated impact on bulk mechanical properties.

Scanning Electron Microscopy with focused ion beam milling and nano-indentation have been employed to calculate mechanical properties of kerogen at the submicron level in Woodford shale samples of different maturities. A displacement of 500 nm was applied to investigate mechanical properties of kerogen and force in the range of 400–500 mN was applied to measure average mechanical properties of shale.

Young’s modulus of kerogen was found to be linked to localized porosity as well as maturity. Kerogen in different samples with vitrinite reflectance range of 0.5–6.36 % and almost no porosity showed Young’s moduli in the range of 6–15 GPa, whereas, kerogen with significant porosity showed values as low as 1.9–2.2 GPa. Young’s modulus measured by nanoindentation on small shale samples (~ 5–10 mm) was found to be in good agreement with dynamic modulus measured on core plugs (~cm). Young’s modulus is most sensitive to the Total Organic Carbon present. Increase in organics is found to qualitatively reduce both Young’s modulus and hardness.

Measurement of elastic properties of shale is significant for optimizing hydraulic fracture design, for well stability study and better seismic velocity prediction in shale. This technique requires small sample dimension, on the order of millimeters, for experiment and thus eliminates the requirement of larger, centimenter, size samples. This is particularly significant for shale as they are mechanically and chemically unstable which makes retrieval of larger core samples challenging.

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