Open faults and fractures act as a major control of fluid flow in the subsurface, especially in fine-grained, low-permeability lithologies. These discontinuities commonly form a part of seal bypass systems, which can lead to the failure of hydrocarbon traps, CO2 geosequestration sites, and waste and injected fluid repositories. We evaluate mesoscale variability in fracture density, morphology and the variability in elastic moduli in the Jurassic Carmel Formation, a proposed seal to the underlying Navajo Sandstone for CO2 geosequestration. By combining mechanostratigraphic outcrop observations with elastic moduli derived from wireline-log data, we characterize the variability in fracture pattern and morphology with the observed variability in rock strength within this heterolithic top seal.
Outcrop inventories of discontinuities show that fracture densities decrease as bed thickness increases and that fracture propagation morphology across lithologic interfaces vary with changing interface type. Dynamic elastic moduli, calculated from wireline-log data, show that Young's modulus ranges by as much as 40 GPa (5,801,510 psi) across depositional interfaces and by an average of 3 GPa (435,113 psi) across the reservoir-seal interface. We expect that the mesoscale changes in rock strength will affect the distributions of localized stress and thereby influence fracture propagation and fluid flow behavior within the seal. These data provide a means to closely tie outcrop observations to those derived from subsurface data and estimates of subsurface rock strength. The characterization of rock strength variability is especially important for modeling the response of caprocks to changing stress conditions associated with increased fluid pressures and will allow for better site screening and subsurface fluid management.