Research on mudrock attributes has increased dramatically since shale-gas systems have become commercial hydrocarbon production targets. One of the most significant research questions now being asked focuses on the nature of the pore system in these mudrocks. Our work on siliceous mudstones from the Mississippian Barnett Shale of the Fort Worth Basin, Texas, shows that the pores in these rocks are dominantly nanometer in scale (nanopores). We used scanning electron microscopy to characterize Barnett pores from a number of cores and have imaged pores as small as 5 nm. Key to our success in imaging these nanopores is the use of Ar-ion-beam milling; this methodology provides flat surfaces that lack topography related to differential hardness and are fundamental for high-magnification imaging.
Nanopores are observed in three main modes of occurrence. Most pores are found in grains of organic matter as intraparticle pores; many of these grains contain hundreds of pores. Intraparticle organic nanopores most commonly have irregular, bubblelike, elliptical cross sections and range between 5 and 750 nm with the median nanopore size for all grains being approximately 100 nm. Internal porosities of up to 20.2% have been measured for whole grains of organic matter based on point-count data from scanning electron microscopy analysis. These nanopores in the organic matter are the predominant pore type in the Barnett mudstones and they are related to thermal maturation.
Nanopores are also found in bedding-parallel, wispy, organic-rich laminae as intraparticle pores in organic grains and as interparticle pores between organic matter, but this mode is not common. Although less abundant, nanopores are also locally present in fine-grained matrix areas unassociated with organic matter and as nano- to microintercrystalline pores in pyrite framboids.
Intraparticle organic nanopores and pyrite-framboid intercrystalline pores contribute to gas storage in Barnett mudstones. We postulate that permeability pathways within the Barnett mudstones are along bedding-parallel layers of organic matter or a mesh network of organic matter flakes because this material contains the most pores.