The Middle Devonian Marcellus shale play has emerged as a major world-class hydrocarbon accumulation and represents one of the largest and most prolific shale plays in the world. According to many outcrop studies in the region, natural fractures are well developed in the Marcellus Shale. However, evaluating fractures in the subsurface is often a significant challenge due to a lack of sufficient data. Therefore, in the Marcellus Shale Energy and Environment Laboratory (MSEEL) consortium project, significant efforts have been made to acquire high-quality image logs in the Marcellus laterals. The project provided tremendous opportunities to characterize the natural fractures and sub-seismic faults and to evaluate their impact on well stimulation.
In this study, about 70,000 ft of acquired high-resolution logging while drilling (LWD) acoustic images from five long laterals located in Monongalia County, West Virginia, were processed and interpreted. In addition, the study used high-quality micro-resistivity images from a pilot well, allowing the evaluation of natural fractures in the entire Marcellus vertical sequence. Based on the available acoustic images, the natural fractures were classified into three basic categories: high-amplitude fractures, low-amplitude fractures, and faults. Further, larger open fractures can also be determined when a low-amplitude fracture is evident on caliper images. The fractures in the Marcellus usually have a medium to high angle dip; however, multiple fracture sets in terms of strike orientation were clearly observed in all the laterals. The fracture set with a strike at NE-SW (or 60-240 deg) seems to be the predominant one in all the wells. A few other sets, including those with N-S, NWW-SEE, and E-W strikes, were also observed. Several sub-seismic faults, with mostly a low dip angle and a NE-SW strike, have also been seen in two of the laterals. The fracture density is variable across all the laterals, ranging from very low (or none) to very high (up to 5 fractures per ft). The average fracture density for all the laterals is about 1 fracture per 10 ft. In the vertical sequence, the natural fracture development showed a clear preference for shale or shaly facies over carbonate-rich or thin limestone layers. The interpreted fracture and fault data were used as input data for the stimulation design with the purpose of better understanding the fractures' impact on well stimulation. Production data from the laterals were also used to evaluate the natural fractures’ influence on well performance. The quality image database and the consistent interpretation results for the entire project enabled a systematic approach to characterizing fractures and, more importantly, to evaluating the impact of fractures on well stimulation and production.