Fracture intensity, the number of fractures per unit length along a sample line, is an important attribute of fracture systems that can be problematic to establish in the subsurface. Lack of adequate constraints on fracture intensity may limit the economic exploitation of fractured reservoirs because intensity describes the abundance of fractures potentially available for fluid flow and the probability of encountering fractures in a borehole. Traditional methods of fracture-intensity measurement are inadequate because they ignore the wide spectrum of fracture sizes found in many fracture systems and the consequent scale dependence of fracture intensity. An alternative approach makes use of fracture-size distributions, which allow more meaningful comparisons between different locations and allow microfractures in subsurface samples to be used for fracture-intensity measurement. Comparisons are more meaningful because sampling artifacts can be recognized and avoided, and because common thresholds of fracture size can be enforced for counting in different locations. Additionally, quantification of the fracture-size distribution provides a mechanism for evaluation of uncertainties. Estimates of fracture intensity using this approach for two carbonate beds in the Sierra Madre Oriental, Mexico, illustrate how size-cognizant measurements cast new light on widely accepted interpretation of geologic controls of fracture intensity.

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