Source rocks (oil shale) were matured artificially via pyrolysis under geologically realistic triaxial stresses using a unique coreholder that is compatible with X-ray Computed Tomography (CT) scanning. This study focuses on characterization of porosity and permeability as well as the evolution of shale fabric during pyrolysis. Experiments were conducted using 1-inch diameter vertical and horizontal core samples from the Green River Formation. Prior to pyrolysis, the properties of the source rock were characterized (e.g., porosity, bulk density, mineralogy, and TOC). Samples were then heated from room temperature to 350 °C under a nitrogen environment to obtain conversion of organic matter to oil and gas via pyrolysis. Porosity and permeability after maturation were measured. Micro-CT visualization was applied to investigate the fracture network developed throughout the core. Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) images were also used to compare the shale fabric and porosity evolution (pre- to post-maturation) at higher resolution.
In-situ observations reveal a decrease of average CT number (i.e., density) within some volumetric regions of the cores after maturation. In these regions, organic matter (kerogen and bitumen) were converted into hydrocarbons. Changs in the source rock depends on the original TOC fraction, hydrogen index (HI), and temperature. The permeability prior to pyrolysis for vertical samples is in the undetectable to nanodarcy range. The permeability of all cores increased to the microdarcy range post-maturation. In particular, the permeability of the horizontal sample increased from 0.14 to 50 μD. This improvement in permeability occurred due to the generation of open porosity and fractures (dilation, generation, and/or drainage). Additionally, the porosity after Soxhlet extraction increased proportionally by 20 % from pre- to post-pyrolysis depending on pyrolysis time and TOC fraction. Longitudinal deformation depends on the orientation of the sample with respect to the triaxial stress during pyrolysis. The deformation of vertically oriented samples with isostress conditions is larger than that of horizontally oriented samples with isostrain. The measured 3D in-situ porosity distribution indicates that organic matter has transformed into hydrocarbons by pyrolysis. The development of a fracture and matrix porosity system under stress provides an explanation for transport of hydrocarbon away from its point of origin.