Insights Into Rates of Fracture Growth and Sealing From a Model for Quartz Cementation in Fractured Sandstones

This paper, published in the GSA Bulletin, represents the outcome of a long standing research collaboration between Geocosm and the FRAC group at the Jackson School of Geosciences at The University of Texas-Austin. Geocosm’s Prism2D model features prominently in the the paper, which may be downloaded using this link.

Prism2D simulation of quartz cement growth in a fracture from the Travis Peak Formation.

A new model accounts for crystal growth patterns and internal textures in quartz cement in sandstone fractures, including massive sealing deposits, thin rinds or veneers that line open fracture surfaces, and bridge structures that span otherwise open fractures. High-resolution cathodoluminescence imaging of bridge structures and massive sealing deposits indicates that they form in association with repeated micron-scale fracturing of growing quartz crystals, whereas thin rinds do not. Model results indicate that the three morphology types develop in response to (1) the ratio of the rates of quartz growth to fracture opening and (2) the substantially faster growth rate that occurs on noneuhedral surfaces in certain crystallographic orientations compared to euhedral crystal faces. Rind morphologies develop when the fracture opening rate exceeds two times the fastest rate of quartz growth (along the c axis on noneuhedral surfaces) because growing crystals develop slow-growing euhedral faces. Massive sealing, on the other hand, develops where the net rate of fracture opening is less than twice the rate of quartz growth on euhedral faces because all quartz growth surfaces along the fracture wall seal the fracture between fracturing events. Bridge structures form at fracture opening rates that are intermediate between the massive sealing and rind cases and are associated with crystallographic orientations that allow growth to span the fracture between fracturing events. Subsequent fractures break the spanned crystal, introducing new, fast-growing noneuhedral growth surfaces where quartz grows more rapidly compared to the euhedral faces of nonspanning crystals. As the ratio of fracture opening to quartz growth rate increases, the proportion of overgrowths that span the fracture decreases, and the range in c-axis orientations for these crystals comes progressively closer to perpendicular to the fracture wall until the maximum spanning limit is reached. Simulation results also reproduce “stretched crystal,” “radiator structure,” and “elongate blocky” textures in metamorphic quartz veins.

The model replicates a well-characterized quartz bridge from the Cretaceous Travis Peak Formation as well as quartz cement abundances, internal textures, and morphologies in the sandstone host rock and fracture zone using the same kinetic parameters while honoring fl uid-inclusion and thermal-history constraints. The same fundamental driving forces, in both in the host rock and fracture system, are responsible for quartz cementation, with the only signifi cant difference within the fracture zone being the creation of new pore space as well as new noneuhedral surfaces for cases where overgrowths span fractures between fracturing events. Rates of fracture growth and sealing may be inferred from fracture cement textures using model results.