Direct shear experiments were undertaken to investigate the effect of faulting and reactivation on the hydromechanical characteristics of faults in continental carbonate samples. The tested rock is a travertine of continental, microbial origin with a calcite content of 99 wt%, with a strongly laminated texture. Analyses of the intact and sheared samples performed using medical X-ray computed tomography (CT) revealed that the porosity is mainly composed of subplanar pores and vugs. Permeability is high along the laminations, controlled by interconnected pores and fractures. The travertine is a lithological analogue for Aptian pre-salt oil reservoir rocks found in South Atlantic offshore basins. Three samples, with dimensions of 240 × 110 × 150 mm, were sheared to a maximum displacement of 120 mm under different levels of effective vertical stress (6–45 MPa), resulting in the formation of cataclastic fault gouge surrounded by a dense fracture network. A new experimental method was used to reactivate the artificially formed fault by performing cyclic vertical loading at different shear displacements on a previously sheared sample, while keeping a constant pore-pressure differential throughout the test.
Pore-fluid responses across the fault zone were monitored continuously during both deformation (dynamic transmissibility) and hold periods (static transmissibility). Results show that the transmissibility reduces in all the samples for all values of the applied effective vertical stress and during shear reversal. The static transmissibility also decreases over time, which may be a result of creep deformation or the blocking of pore channels with gouge material. Our results indicate that once the gouge material is developed in the core of a carbonate fault zone, the dynamic transmissibility across that fault is permanently decreased, with little dependence on subsequent kinematics of reactivation, or changes in stress, so long as the gouge zone is not breached by a new structure.