Thin, vertical, planar fractures in the Mission Canyon Formation of the Little Knife field, in west-central North Dakota, appear to be naturally occurring extension fractures. The fractures are restricted to carbonate units, but are not lithology dependent within the carbonate rocks. Fracture density averages 1 ft (0.3 m) of fracture per 2.3 ft (0.7 m) of core. The predominant east-west trend of the fractures, measured in oriented core from six wells, parallels the estimated maximum horizontal compressive stress in the Williston basin.
Formation and mineralization of these fractures were the most recent diagenetic events in the Little Knife carbonates. Heating-and cooling-stage observations of fluid inclusions in crystals bridging the fractures yield homogenization temperature ranges of 90 to 106°C and 102 to 126°C for hydrocarbon and aqueous inclusions, respectively. Correlation of these observations with the PVT properties of Little Knife reservoir fluids leads to the following conclusions: (1) the fractures formed after the strata were buried to at least their present depth of 9,800 ft (3,000 m), which indicates their age is post-Mesozoic; (2) the pore-fluid pressure gradient was normal hydrostatic immediately after, if not during, fracture system development; (3) formation-water salinity has remained fairly constant since fracture initiation; (4) migration of hydrocarbons into the reservoir probably receded or accompanied fracture genesis; and (5) methane concentration may have decreased since fracture initiation.
The geologic mechanism specifically responsible for creating the fractures remains unknown. The potential for using fluid inclusions to document changing methane concentration within a reservoir could be significant to studies of hydrocarbon migration.