Coupled Transport, Reactivity, and Mechanics in Fractured Shale Caprocks

M. P. Murugesu, B. Vega, C. M. Ross, T. Kurotori, J. L. Druhan, A. R. Kovscek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Shales are low-permeability caprocks that confine fluid, such as CO2, nuclear waste, and hydrogen, in storage formations. Stress-induced fractures in shale caprocks provide pathways for fluid to leak and potentially contaminate fresh water aquifers. Fractured shales are also increasingly considered as resources for CO2 sequestration, enhanced geothermal, and unconventional energy recovery. Injecting reactive fluids into shales introduces chemical disequilibrium, causing an onset of a series of dissolution, precipitation, and fines mobilization mechanisms. The reactions have rapid kinetics and significant impact on porosity and permeability; consequently, flow and storage properties of caprocks. While previous research has explored the separate effects of these reactions, this study aims to uncover their simultaneous occurrence and collective influence. This study unveils these highly coupled transport and reactivity mechanisms by tracking and visualizing the reaction-induced alterations in the matrix, microcracks, and fractures of shales over time. We conducted brine injection experiments sequentially at pH 4 and 2 in a naturally fractured Wolfcamp shale sample while simultaneously imaging the dynamic processes using X-ray computed tomography (CT). CT images are validated by finer resolution images obtained using micro-CT and scanning electron microscopy. We also tracked the sample permeability and fluid chemistry using brine permeability and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry, respectively. Findings show that fluid primarily flowed through fractures, dissolving reactive minerals and mobilizing fines on fracture surfaces. Dissolution of fracture asperities under confining stress resulted in the closing of fractures. Clogging in narrow fracture pathways, caused by fines accumulation, diverted fluid flow into matrix pores.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2023WR035482
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2024


  • caprocks
  • fines migration
  • fractured shales
  • multimodal imaging
  • multiscale visualization
  • reactive transport

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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