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It is generally accepted that the clay mineralogy of the shale formation is a primary causative factor of shale instability. This review considers a scenario of shale instability relating to illitic minerals. From the literature the thickness of the double electric layer (DEL) of the aqueous solutions associated with the charged external surfaces of clay minerals is of the same order or even thicker than the sizes of a significant proportion of the pores found in shales. In these circumstances, overlap of the DELs associated with the exposed outer surfaces of clay minerals on opposing sides of slit-like micropores (<2 nm in diameter) and mesopores (2–50 nm in diameter) in a lithostatically compressed shale would bring about electrostatic repulsion and lead to increased pore/hydration pressure in illitic shales. In shales and sandstones, illitic material is usually described in terms of two different phases, namely illite per se and mixed-layer illite–smectite (I/S). Evidence is presented to show that it is often the case that only one illite phase exists and that in reality the mixed-layer I/S is simply very thin illite (<5 nm in thickness) in the early stages of its growth. Such material is of common occurrence in the unconventional hydrocarbon reservoirs of the USA.

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