The success of hydraulic fracturing and increasing use of basin-modeling packages drive the need to understand the effects of hydrocarbon (HC) generation on the mechanical properties of source rocks. A better understanding of relationships among geological, geochemical, and geomechanical parameters can potentially reduce the uncertainties associated with conventional and unconventional prospect evaluation.

We present a simulation of microcrack growth based on a three-dimensional source-rock system. Upon thermal maturation, the kerogen transforms into lighter products, most of which are HCs. The generated products exert excessive pore pressure to the system resulting from the effect of volume expansion; this pressure is released through the expansion of pore space and formation of microcracks. Using linear elasticity and linear elastic fracture mechanics, our model calculates microcrack sizes (surface areas, lengths, apertures, and volumes) and the amount of overpressure throughout the maturation process. We validated this model with experimental data from Kobchenko et al. (2011), and performed sensitivity analysis for both laboratory and geological settings. Much larger microcracks are generated in laboratory settings compared to the subsurface because of the lack of overburden, resulting in secondary porosity over 100 times larger than the original organic porosity and crack lengths obtaining millimeter scale. In contrast, microcracks are much smaller in geological settings because of the presence of significant overburden and stiffer rock frames: the crack apertures are in the submicron regime with a crack length ranging from 100 to 300 μm. The formation of microcracks connects isolated microscale HC pockets, providing pathways for primary migration.

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