Rate-independent fracture toughness of gray and black kerogen-rich shales

Pooyan Kabir, Franz Josef Ulm, Ange Therese Akono

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The objective of this investigation is to characterize the influence of the loading rate, scratch speed, mineralogy, morphology, anisotropy, and total organic content on the scratch toughness of organic-rich shale. We focus our study on a gray shale, Toarcian shale (Paris basin, France) and a black shale, Niobrara shale (northeastern Colorado, USA). Microscopic scratch tests are performed for varying scratch speeds and loading rates. We consider several orientations for scratch testing. For all gas shale specimens, the scratch toughness is found to increase with increasing scratch speed. In the asymptotic regime of high speeds, there is a convergence toward a single constant value irrespective of the loading rate. To understand this evolution of the scratch toughness, a nonlinear fracture mechanics model is built that integrates fracture dissipation with the various forms of viscous processes. In particular, a coupling is shown between the fracture energy and the viscoelastic characteristics. An inverse approach which combines scratch and indentation testing makes it possible to represent all tests in a single curve and retrieve the rate-independent fracture toughness of kerogen-rich shale materials. The presence of organic matter drastically alters the creep and fracture properties at the microscopic length-scale. The fracture behavior is anisotropic with the divider orientation yielding the highest fracture toughness value and the short transverse orientation yielding the lowest fracture toughness. Elucidating the fracture-composition-morphology relationships in organic-rich shale will promote advances in science and engineering for energy-related applications such as hydraulic fracturing in unconventional reservoirs or CO 2 sequestration in depleted reservoirs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1207-1227
Number of pages21
JournalActa Geotechnica
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Fracture
  • Kerogen-rich shale
  • Scratch test
  • Viscoelasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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