En echelon fractures and veins are among the most common and distinctive geological structures, yet their three-dimensional forms and relationships to surrounding structures are commonly unclear. X-ray computed tomography (CT) offers an unrivaled ability to examine structures within rocks in three dimensions, and it is applied here to a sample of drill core from the Marcellus Shale of southwestern Pennsylvania (USA). CT images yield qualitative and quantitative data on the transition from a pyrite-rich planar vein to an en echelon veinlet array, and on the heterogeneity of veinlets within the array. Using a combination of three- and two-dimensional images, geometric data, and traditional petrography, we identify a range of veinlet shapes consistent with deformation during formation of an antitaxial graphite-calcite-pyrite vein system. Each of the veinlets is rooted in the underlying planar vein where it is narrowest. The transition from planar vein to en echelon array coincides with a change in bedding, suggesting that competency contrasts between adjacent beds controlled the fracture morphology. Veinlets initiated as short, lenticular fractures at ~45° to the planar vein before lengthening, dilating, and rotating. None of the veinlets are strongly sigmoidal, nor is there measurable offset across the margins of the planar vein; therefore, finite non-shear strain was very limited, and fluid overpressure–induced fracturing during burial and diagenesis is probably the most likely process for fracturing and vein formation.

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