Numerical Modeling of Early-Formed Natural Fractures in Modern and Ancient Carbonate Systems

Alzayer, Y. (The University of Texas at Austin) | Nolting, A. (The University of Texas at Austin) | Zahm, C. (The University of Texas at Austin)


ABSTRACT: Carbonate strata are unique in that sediments can become lithified soon after deposition and prior to burial or loading (e.g., by marine or meteoric cementation). The rocks that develop have appreciable strength and cohesion that enable brittle failure under the influence of gravity. Conditions of increased effective tensile stress state can develop along steep-walled carbonate shelf margins and carbonate buildups. Marine and/or meteoric processes lead to the development of early mechanical property contrast between different facies. Some facies are mechanically competent (i.e. susceptible to brittle failure) while other facies experience ductile deformation via compaction. It is challenging to isolate features that are only related to early deformation in both outcrop and subsurface settings from those that occur from burial, uplift, and tectonism. To address this challenge, we present a forward numerical modeling approach using the finite-discrete element modeling code ELFEN to simulate these early deformation processes in carbonate systems. This modeling approach requires an initial geometry, initial rock properties, gravitational loading, and failure criteria. Bathymetry data of a modern example and a digital outcrop model of ancient rocks guides initial model geometry. Initial rock mechanical properties were measured by uniaxial compressive and Brazilian tests from collected modern and ancient rock samples. Failure criteria are assigned based on expected deformation behavior (i.e., brittle or ductile). Grain-rich carbonates and reef builders are prone to in situ early cementation and are expected to behave in a brittle manner and thus are assigned a Mohr-Coulomb with a rotating Rankine crack failure model. Soon after deposition mud-rich carbonate facies are expected to be prone to compaction and thus are assigned a modified CAM clay model that allows for compaction and porosity loss with increasing gravitational load. Modeling results are useful in determining most important variables to early fracturing and provide fundamental understanding of early deformation processes in strata that are known fractured carbonate reservoirs.


Syndepositional fracture and fault development has been documented in carbonate systems where lithification can commonly occur by meteoric and marine cementation prior to burial (e.g., Della Porta et al., 2004; Frost and Kerans, 2009; Kosa and Hunt, 2006; Verwer et al., 2009). These fracture and fault networks dictate early permeability anisotropy and influence subsequent diagenesis and deformation patterns (Budd et al., 2013; Frost et al., 2012). Syndepositional fractures can be a major contributor to permeability and hydrocarbon flow in giant carbonate reservoirs (e.g., Albertini, et al., 2013, Collins et al., 2013; Fernandez- Ibanez et al., 2016). Several challenges impede complete characterization of such fractures including insufficient sampling from the subsurface, outcrop quality, and overprinting by subsequent deformation or diagenesis. Here we address this challenge by a numerical modeling approach in which we simulate early fracture development in response to gravitational forces.