Electrofracturing of Shale at Elevated Pressure

Stephen Bauer, Steve Glover, Kenneth Williamson, Jiann Cherng Su, Scott Broome, W. Payton Gardner, Joe Rudys, Gary Pena, Forrest White, Michael Horry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Electrofracturing deeply buried shale formations could be used to increase reservoir permeability and improve reservoir production without requiring large volumes of freshwater. This paper describes a novel experimental system and initial test results to electrofracture shale under high confining pressures. Core-scale laboratory testing was performed on twelve rock samples recovered from a shale gas reservoir. Each sample was subjected to confining pressures of 20.7 MPa (3000 psi) or 58.6 MPa (8000 psi), representative of overburden pressures at depth. Samples were then subjected to application of high voltage until specimen fracture. The experiments produced deformed samples with multiple fracture types, both parallel and oblique to bedding planes. Electrofracturing increased permeabilities by up to nine orders of magnitude for extended time periods. Rock fracture and throughgoing fractures were demonstrated. Computed tomography images revealed the creation of fractures and tube/tunnel flow channels, which resisted closure under hydrostatic pressures up to 58.6 MPa. The breakdown energy and permeability changes in the sample were independent of applied confining pressure. The cumulative energy input required for fracture depended on applied confining pressure and sample length. The energy required to fracture samples up to 9 cm in length is generally more than 0.5 kJ/cm, but no greater than 1 kJ/cm. Our results show that electrofracture of shales under confining pressure is possible and could be a possible water-free mechanism for reservoir stimulation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2708
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 2024


  • hydraulic fracturing
  • permeability enhancement
  • unconventional petroleum reservoirs


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