Shale formations account for 25% of the land surface globally. One of the most productive shale-gas formations is the Marcellus, a black shale that is rich in organic matter and pyrite. As a first step toward understanding how Marcellus shale interacts with water, we developed a reactive transport model to simulate shale weathering under ambient temperature and pressure conditions, constrained by soil chemistry and water data. The simulation was carried out for 10,000 years, assuming bedrock weathering and soil genesis began right after the last glacial maximum. Results indicate weathering was initiated by pyrite dissolution for the first 1,000 years, leading to low pH and enhanced dissolution of chlorite and precipitation of iron hydroxides. After pyrite depletion, chlorite dissolved slowly, primarily facilitated by the presence of CO2 and organic acids, forming vermiculite as a secondary mineral.
A sensitivity analysis indicated that the most important controls on weathering include the presence of reactive gases (CO2 and O2), specific surface area, and flow velocity of infiltrating meteoric water. The soil chemistry and mineralogy data could not be reproduced without including the reactive gases. For example, pyrite remained in the soil even after 10,000 years if O2 was not continuously present in the soil column; likewise, chlorite remained abundant and porosity remained small with the presence of soil CO2. The field observations were only simulated successfully when the specific surface areas of the reactive minerals were 1-3 orders of magnitude smaller than surface area values measured for powdered minerals, reflecting the lack of accessibility of fluids to mineral surfaces and potential surface coating. An increase in the water infiltration rate enhanced weathering by removing dissolution products and maintaining far-from-equilibrium conditions. We conclude that availability of reactive surface area and transport of H2O and gases are the most important factors affecting chemical weathering of the Marcellus shale in the shallow subsurface. This study documents the utility of reactive transport modeling for complex subsurface processes. Such modelling could be extended to understand interactions between injected fluids and Marcellus shale gas reservoirs at higher temperature and pressure.
Li, L., Heidari, P., Jin, L., Williams, J.Z., Brantley, S.L. (2017): A Reactive Transport Modeling for Marcellus Shale Weathering. 2017 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, New Orleans, LA, 11-15 Dec .
This Paper/Book acknowledges NSF CZO grant support.