The origin of en echelon second order shear fractures and tension gashes associated with first order, or primary, faults is examined analytically and experimentally. It is postulated that en echelon second order structures form under the influence of a stress mechanism similar to the one occurring in the direct shear test. The direct shear or modified direct shear state of stress could develop at certain points along a forming primary fault as a result of a local reduction in the normal stress acting on planes perpendicular to the displacement direction. It is argued that in most en echelon arrays the orientation of the individual fractures reflects the existence of a local state of stress, and cannot directly be correlated with the regional (primary) stress field. The zone in which they occur, however, may represent planes of high effective shear stress within the regional framework.
The direct shear model (full relief of transverse normal stress) offers a stress mechanism which can explain the origin of not only en echelon tension gashes but also second order faults. For a given set of strength parameters, the type of en echelon fractures that will develop depends on the normal stress acting in the primary fault plane. In general, tension fractures form at low normal stress, shear fractures at intermediate values of normal stress, and at high normal stress a crush or shear zone is produced. If the state of stress is one of modified direct shear (only partial relief of transverse normal stress), the development of second order faults is favored.