Imbibition of water into the shale matrix is known as the primary reason for inefficient water recovery after hydraulic fracturing treatments. The hydration of clay minerals may induce microfractures in clay-rich shale samples. The increased porosity and permeability due to induced microfractures has been considered to be partly responsible for 1) excessive water uptake of gas shales, and 2) increase in hydrocarbon production rate after prolonged shut-in periods. To test this hypothesis, it is necessary to measure imbibition-induced strain and stress under representative laboratory conditions.

In this study, we conduct laboratory tests to 1) measure the strain and stress induced by water imbibition in gas shales and 2) investigate the effect of confining load on the rate of water imbibition. We conduct a three-phase study on rock samples from the Horn River Basin (HRB) and the Duvernay (DUV) Formation, located in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin. In the first phase, we measure baselines for water and kerosene imbibition into the rock samples by conducting spontaneous imbibition tests. In the second phase, we measure expansion of the rock samples during imbibition of water and kerosene, in separate tests, using a linear variable differential transformer (LVDT). In the third phase, we measure imbibition-induced tensile stress during water imbibition into the samples.

The results show that both HRB and DUV shale samples imbibe more water than kerosene, due to water adsorption by clay minerals. Imbibition of water increases the porosity of the HRB and the DUV samples by up to 0.94 and 0.25 percentage points, respectively. Expansion of all samples is anisotropic, with higher expansion perpendicular to the depositional lamination. Water imbibition into the samples induces an expansive stress as high as 17 psi. Moreover, applying confining stress reduces the imbibition of water by up to 18.1% and 33.7% in the HRB and DUV samples, respectively.

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