The structure of the fracture network formed by hydraulic fracturing operation is one of the key parameter in production from unconventional shale reservoirs. The standard approach to obtain such information is usually through well-testing coupled with micro-seismic monitoring. Unfortunately, the micro-seismic mapping is not always carried out and the conventional well-test techniques often fall short in describing the flow in shale reservoir in particular the contact area of the fractures open to flow.

The other alternative technique to get insight into structure of the fracture network is to use chemical tracer tests. In this study, we propose a new simple and cost efficient technique to estimate the fracture contact area by tracking the major exchange cations in shale reservoirs.

The idea behind the proposed technique is to replace the major cations on fracture surfaces in shale by increasing the concentration of one of the major cation in fracturing fluid. The current technique is satisfied the industry standard practice as the high concentrated K+ is part of hydraulic fracturing fluid composition and therefore cation exchange with other major cations (Na+, Ca++ and Mg++) is expected to occur.

In order to test the feasibility of the proposed techniques, a set of laboratory tests were conducted where a shale sample was milled and sieved to three different sizes to have different contact area. They are then placed in a high pressure cylinder (built for this study) and were washed by concentrated NaCl solution under high pressure and controlled temperature. The effluent was collected successively and analysed for major cations using ICP-MS. Correlation relating the cation exchange mass content to contact surface is proposed and calibrated using the data obtained from laboratory tests.

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