Abstract

Permian black shales from the lower Ecca Group of the southern main Karoo Basin (MKB) have a total organic carbon (TOC) of up to ~5 wt% and have been considered primary targets for a potential shale gas exploration in South Africa. This study investigates the influence of shale composition, porosity, pressure (P) and temperatures (T) on their geomechanical properties such as compressive strength and elastic moduli. On average, these lower Ecca Group shales contain a high proportion, ~50 to 70 vol%, of mechanically strong minerals (e.g., quartz, feldspar, pyrite), ~30 to 50 vol% of weak minerals (e.g., clay minerals, organic matter) and ~0 to 50 vol% of intermediate minerals (e.g., carbonates), which have highly variable mechanical strength. Constant strain rate, triaxial deformation tests (at T ≤100°C; P ≤50 MPa) were performed using a Paterson-type high pressure instrument. Results showed that the Prince Albert Formation is the strongest and most brittle unit in the lower Ecca Group in the southern MKB followed by the Collingham and then the Whitehill Formation. Compressive strength and Young’s moduli (E) increase with increasing hard mineral content and decrease with increasing mechanically weak minerals and porosity. On comparison with some international shales, for which compositional and geomechanical data were measured using similar techniques, the lower Ecca Group shales are found to be geomechanically stronger and more brittle. This research provides the foundation for future geomechanical and petrophysical investigations of these Permian Ecca black shales and their assessment as potential unconventional hydrocarbon reservoirs in the MKB.

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