Supercritical CO2 breakthrough and flow mechanisms in shale have been investigated in laboratory experiments using a high pressure flow cell and cylindrical samples of shale from the Draupne formation in the North Sea. The main objective is to study the basic mechanisms involved in the breakthrough process and define the controlling parameters for supercritical CO2 flow in a low permeable shale.

Experimental testing provides new insight into the CO2 breakthrough process through simultaneous measurements of deformation and ultrasonic velocities in the sample. A marked sample dilation associated with the CO2 breakthrough is identified accompanied with a pronounced drop in ultrasonic velocities. X-ray images of the sample using a high resolution 3D computer tomography (CT) scanner provide information on macroscopic fracture distribution inside the sample before and after testing.

The CO2 breakthrough pressure for the Draupne material seems to depend on confining pressure and effective pressure rather than pore pressure difference across the sample. After breakthrough the effective CO2 permeability was found to follow a simple model for permeability in fractured rock. The drop in ultrasonic velocity was associated with mechanical changes and possible micro fracturing inside the sample. Based on our observations we conclude that pressure-induced opening of micro-fractures during the breakthrough process is an important mechanism for flow in addition to capillary displacement. Our findings may have important consequences for later testing and estimation of CO2 breakthrough pressure and flow in shale.

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