Paper No. 9
Presentation Time: 3:15 PM


EICHHUBL, Peter1, FALL, András2, LAUBACH, Stephen E.2, BODNAR, Robert J.3 and DAVIS, J. Steve4, (1)Bureau of Economic Geology, The University of Texas at Austin, 10100 Burnet Road, Austin, TX 78758, (2)Bureau of Economic Geology, Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin, University Station, P.O. Box X, Austin, TX 78713-8924, (3)Geosciences, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 4044 Derring Hall, Blacksburg, VA 24061, (4)ExxonMobil Exploration Company, 22777 Springwoods Village Parkway, Spring, TX 77389,

Natural fractures are pervasive in tight-gas sandstone reservoirs providing flow pathways between source and reservoir layers during gas charge and between matrix pores and hydraulic fractures and the well bore during production. While the formation of natural fractures has previously been associated with gas generation and pore fluid pressure increase through a process referred to as natural hydraulic fracturing, other driving mechanisms such as stress changes by tectonic or exhumation processes remained viable alternatives. To test for these mechanisms we investigated the spatial and temporal distribution of fracture formation and its relations to gas generation, migration, and charge in sandstone of the Cretaceous Mesaverde Group on a basin-wide scale. Using fluid inclusion microthermometry of crack-seal fracture cement formed concurrently with fracture opening we observed temperature trends that, when compared with temperature evolution models of the formation, date fracture formation between 41 and 6 Ma in the northern and between 39 and 6 Ma in the southern Piceance Basin. The onset of fracture formation 20-30 m.y. prior to maximum burial eliminates changes in stress state associated with exhumation as a mechanism triggering the onset of fracture formation. Instead, calculated paleo-pore fluid pressures of 40-90 MPa (5,800-13,000 psi) during fracture opening and the presence of methane-rich inclusions in fracture cement suggest that fracture formation was aided by high pore fluid pressures during gas generation in organic-rich shale and coals, and gas charge into adjacent and interlayered sandstone reservoirs. A 10-20 m.y. age progression in the onset of fracture formation from deeper to shallower horizons of the Mesaverde Group is consistent with gas generation and onset of fracture formation activated by burial temperature with limited upward migration of gas at this stage of reservoir evolution. This age progression with depth is inconsistent with fracture formation triggered by changes in stress conditions associated with tectonic or structural processes expected to affect the entire formation synchronously. Our observations are thus most consistent with fracture formation by natural hydraulic fracturing in response to gas generation in interbedded source layers and reservoir charge.