Imaging tools are widely used in the petroleum industry to investigate structural features of reservoir rocks directly at multiple scales. Quantitative image analysis is often used to determine various rock properties, but it requires significant time and effort, particularly to analyze a large number of samples. Automated object detection represents a potential solution to this efficiency problem. This method uses computers to efficiently provide quantitative information for thousands of images. Automated fracture detection in scanning electron microscope (SEM) images is presented as an example to show the workflow of using advanced deep-learning tools for quantitative rock characterization. First, an automatic object-detection method is presented for fast identification and characterization of microfractures in shales. Using this approach, we analyzed 100 SEM images obtained from deformed and intact samples of a carbonate-rich shale and a siliceous shale with the goal of analyzing the abundance and characteristics of microfractures generated during hydraulic fracturing. Most of the fractures are detected with about 90% success rate relative to manual picking. Second, we obtained statistics of length and areal porosities of these fractures. The experimentally deformed samples had slightly more detectable microfractures (1.8 fractures/image on average compared to 1.6 fractures/image), and the microfractures induced by shear deformation tend to be short (<50 μm) in the Eagle Ford and long in the siliceous samples, presumably because of differences in rock fabric. In future work, this approach will be applied to characterize the shape and size of mineral grains and to analyze relationships between fractures and minerals.

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