A uniaxial confinement clamp was used on Woodford Shale cores in hydrous pyrolysis experiments to study fracture development during thermal maturation. The clamp simulates overburden in that it prevents cores from expanding perpendicular to bedding fabric during the volume-increasing reactions associated with petroleum generation. Cores were cut from a slab of immature Woodford Shale and subjected to hydrous pyrolysis under confinement at 300, 330, and 365 °C for 72 hours to induce thermal maturities ranging from early bitumen to maximum expelled-oil generation. Two additional cores were used as experimental controls:
a confined core was saturated with water by heating it to 100 °C under hydrous pyrolysis conditions for 72 hours to use for characterization of the original rock, and
an unconfined core was heated at 365 °C for 72 hours to evaluate the effects of confinement on petroleum generation and expulsion.
X-ray computed tomography (X-CT) imaging and other analyses identified five distinct beds within the cored interval. Using a tentative classification system, beds 1, 2, and 3 are described as dolomitic marlstone (DM) with total organic carbon (TOC) contents of 7.7, 5.8, and 7.7 wt. %, respectively; bed 4 is a cherty quartzose claystone (CQC) with TOC content of 5.5 wt. %; and bed 5 is a quartzose claystone with TOC content of 10.9 wt. %. Bed samples all had similar Rock-Eval hydrogen indices (600 ± 46 mg S2/g-TOC) and Tmax values (433 ± 2 °C), demonstrating organic matter uniformity and low thermal maturity.
The X-CT scan of the core heated to 100 °C showed preexisting fractures that were nearly perpendicular to the bedding fabric primarily in the low-TOC DM bed 2 and CQC bed 4. Heating led to enhancement of preexisting fractures in the confined cores with the greatest enhancement occurring in CQC bed 4. The fractures increased in size and intensity with temperature. This is attributed to the internal pressure generated by volume-increasing reactions during the conversion of kerogen to bitumen and bitumen to oil and gas. The unconfined core heated to 365 °C showed no enhanced fracturing and its X-CT-scan resembled that of the 100 °C confined core. Comparison of the oil and gas yields from the confined and unconfined cores heated to 365 °C showed no significant differences, indicating that product expulsion is not inhibited by the procedure used in this study. These results also indicate that fracturing during thermal maturation is driven primarily by the enhancement of existing fractures.