A 4D Synchrotron X-Ray-Tomography Study of the Formation of Hydrocarbon- Migration Pathways in Heated Organic-Rich Shale
- Hamed Panahi (University of Oslo) | Paul Meakin (University of Oslo) | Francois Renard (University of Grenoble I & CNRS) | Maya Kobchenko (University of Oslo) | Julien Scheibert (Laboratoire de Tribologie et Dynamique des Syste`mes, France) | Adriano Mazzini (University of Oslo) | Bjorn Jamtveit (University of Oslo) | Anders Malthe-Sorenssen (University of Oslo) | Dag Kristian Dysthe (University of Oslo)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- SPE Journal
- Publication Date
- November 2012
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 366 - 377
- 2012. Society of Petroleum Engineers
- 1.2.3 Rock properties, 5.1.1 Exploration, Development, Structural Geology
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Recovery of oil from oil shales and the natural primary migration of hydrocarbons are closely related processes that have received renewed interest in recent years because of the ever tightening supply of conventional hydrocarbons and the growing production of hydrocarbons from low-permeability tight rocks. Quantitative models for conversion of kerogen into oil and gas and the timing of hydrocarbon generation have been well documented. However, lack of consensus about the kinetics of hydrocarbon formation in source rocks, expulsion timing, and how the resulting hydrocarbons escape from or are retained in the source rocks motivates further investigation. In particular, many mechanisms have been proposed for the transport of hydrocarbons from the rocks in which they are generated into adjacent rocks with higher permeabilities and smaller capillary entry pressures, and a better understanding of this complex process (primary migration) is needed. To characterize these processes, it is imperative to use the latest technological advances. In this study, it is shown how insights into hydrocarbon migration in source rocks can be obtained by using sequential high-resolution synchrotron X-ray tomography. Three-dimensional images of several immature "shale" samples were constructed at resolutions close to 5 µm. This is sufficient to resolve the source-rock structure down to the grain level, but very-fine-grained silt particles, clay particles, and colloids cannot be resolved. Samples used in this investigation came from the R-8 unit in the upper part of the Green River shale, which is organic rich, varved, lacustrine marl formed in Eocene Lake Uinta, USA. One Green River shale sample was heated in situ up to 400°C as X-ray-tomography images were recorded. The other samples were scanned before and after heating at 400°C. During the heating phase, the organic matter was decomposed, and gas was released. Gas expulsion from the low-permeability shales was coupled with formation of microcracks. The main technical difficulty was numerical extraction of microcracks that have apertures in the 5- to 30-µm range (with 5 µm being the resolution limit) from a large 3D volume of X-ray attenuation data. The main goal of the work presented here is to develop a methodology to process these 3D data and image the cracks. This methodology is based on several levels of spatial filtering and automatic recognition of connected domains. Supportive petrographic and thermogravimetric data were an important complement to this study. An investigation of the strain field using 2D image correlation analyses was also performed. As one application of the 4D (space + time) microtomography and the developed workflow, we show that fluid generation was accompanied by crack formation. Under different conditions, in the subsurface, this might provide paths for primary migration.
Key words in this work include 4D microtomography, 3D image processing, shale, strain field analysis, kerogen, petroleum generation, primary migration, petrography, and thermogravimetry.
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