During progressive burial, low permeability organic-rich shale rocks evolve chemically and physically as the temperature and stress increase and organic matter matures. The transformation of organic matter into hydrocarbon, followed by its expulsion into secondary migration pathways along which it is conveyed into reservoirs rocks, is a coupled process that involves chemical reactions, changes in volume and stress leading to the nucleation and growth of microfractures, the opening and closing of these microfractures, and fluid transport through them. Primary migration was studied using an experimental setup that was designed to measure changes in fluid pressure, which are correlated with organic matter maturation and hydrocarbon expulsion. The setup consisted of a pressurized autoclave which was externally heated. Shale samples were confined, under an initially low confining pressure and an applied differential stress (0.18 MPa), and heated to temperatures of 210–320 °C. Changes in temperature, static pressure (pressure measured using a linear response transducer) and dynamic fluid pressures (measured using a piezoelectric differential transducer) in the autoclave chamber were monitored and recorded during each experiment. In the higher part of the temperature range, fluid produced by kerogen maturation and the concomitant formation of microfractures increased volumetric expansion of the shale. Power spectral densities of the fluid pressure signals were calculated and a conceptual model is proposed to explain the dynamics of fluid expulsions. While a power law distribution of frequencies of pressure burst amplitudes was identified, the frequencies of time intervals between successive expulsion events (waiting times) decrease monotonically with increasing waiting time. Co-generation of gas and liquid hydrocarbon was evidenced. Several samples were imaged after kerogen maturation using X-ray microtomography, and the data confirm the existence of a percolating network of microfracture that controls the primary migration of hydrocarbons.
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