A majority of the whole core samples recovered in the US today come from shale reservoirs. A primary reason for so much shale coring is that shale well log analysis requires rigorous core calibration to provide reliable data for reservoir quality, hydrocarbon-in-place, and hydraulic fracturing potential. However, the uncertainty in interpreting shale well log data is sometimes matched or exceeded by the uncertainty observed in traditional methods of analyzing core samples. Most commercial core analysis methods in use today were developed originally for sandstones and carbonates exceeding 1 millidarcy in permeability. High quality, organic-rich shale on the other hand is usually lower than 0.001 millidarcy. This extremely low permeability creates substantial challenges for existing methods and has contributed to the rapid rise of a new approach to reservoir evaluation called Digital Rock Physics (DRP).
DRP merges three key technologies that have evolved rapidly over the last decade. One is high resolution diagnostic imaging methods that permit detailed examination of the internal structure of rock samples over a wide range of scales. The second is advanced numerical methods for simulating complex physical phenomenon and the third is high speed, massively parallel computation using powerful graphical processing units (GPUs) that were originally developed for computer gaming and animation.
Based on pore-scale images from a wide range of organic shales, it can be seen that organic material is present in a variety of forms. Three primary forms of organic matter are commonly observed; non-porous, spongy, and pendular. Non-porous organic components fill all of the available non-mineral space leaving virtually no porosity or fluid flow path. Porous or "spongy?? organic material is commonly encountered in thermally mature gas shales. Pendular organic material appears to fill the small inter-granular and grain contact regions, leaving open pore space in the larger voids. These pore types are largely controlled by kerogen type and thermal maturity, and they exert large influence on the porosity, permeability, and overall shale reservoir quality.
Methodology for Digital Rock Physics
Digital rock physics analysis of shales is usually performed in three stages. Each stage provides visual and quantitative information that can be used to select a smaller but representative volume for the next stage of analysis. Stage 1 is performed on whole cores, stage 2 uses plug-size samples, and stage 3 is an ultra high resolution, 3D pore-scale analysis.