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GEOPHYSICS, VOL. 79, NO. 4 (JULY-AUGUST 2014); P. 18, 6 FIGS., 4 TABLES.


Empirical estimation of uniaxial compressive strength

of shale formations

Mohsen Farrokhrouz1, Mohammad Reza Asef2, and Riyaz Kharrat3

ABSTRACT parameters. Our primary objective was to identify a minimum

set of related rock properties that could be used to predict c .
1 The uniaxial compressive strength of rock ( c ) is an impor- From a review of existing data in the literature, supplemented
tant parameter for petroleum engineers, drilling operations, by laboratory measurements on Iranian samples, we estab-
and all related activities from exploration through to produc- lished a database and accomplished extensive statistic analysis.
tion and abandonment. A thorough understanding of the Also, a normality test was executed to make sure a statistically
parameters affecting c is a basic prerequisite for accurate geo- acceptable set of data was collected. We suggested that two
mechanical modeling of the reservoir and overburden proper- parameters of Youngs modulus (E) and porosity (), which
ties. Uniaxial compressive strength plays a significant role in might be estimated from geophysical log data, were sufficient
mud weight determination while drilling, especially for a for a reliable prediction of c in shale formations, and the over-
troublesome lithology such as shale. However, standard geo- all contribution of E was more than . We obtained a predic-
mechanical practice requires well-preserved core samples for tion equation with improved accuracy compared to previous
measurement of c in the lab. Because core samples are not investigations. Furthermore, we determined that the relative
often available, there is a need for alternative methods to sensitivity of shale strength to porosity and Youngs modulus
obtain fit-for-purpose values of c , based on other related rock very much depended on the range of porosity.

INTRODUCTION tions may be considerably challenging (Wong et al., 1993). Very

often, swelling or shrinkage of the shale formation results from in-
The mechanical properties of shales and other rock types are im- vasion of drilling fluid into the formation or the chemical reaction
portant in the petroleum industry (Drge et al., 2006; Farrokhrouz between clay minerals and drilling fluid. Invasion may also be
and Asef, 2013), for example, in application to basin modeling responsible for sliding or creeping of the shale formation, leading
(Goulty, 2008), interpretation of seismic response (Heum, 1996; to sloughing (Reyes and Osisanya, 2002). On the other hand, the
Dewhurst et al., 2002), and borehole stability (Ebadi et al., traditional method for mud weight calculation in a vertical well is
2008). However, in the course of exploration and production of con- based on the formation pore pressure and the fracture gradient. An
ventional hydrocarbons, shales are not the primary target even equation used for determining the upper limit of the mud weight
though they are often encountered as caprock (Camac et al., (Pw ) based on the Mohr-Coulomb failure criterion for a vertical well
2009). Therefore, shale core samples from deep boreholes are is as follows (Fjaer et al., 2008):
scarce because of the additional cost related to coring operations
that are normally confined to reservoir rocks.
3 H h c
Experience shows that wellbore instability while drilling can be Pw ; ; (1)
very costly. High-angle and long-section drilling in shale forma- tan2 1 4 2

Manuscript received by the Editor 19 August 2013; revised manuscript received 15 December 2013.
Curtin University of Technology/Petroleum University of Technology, Tehran, Iran. E-mail:
Kharazmi University, Earth Sciences Faculty, Tehran, Iran. E-mail:
Petroleum University of Technology, Petroleum Research Centre, Tehran, Iran. E-mail:
2014 Society of Exploration Geophysicists. All rights reserved.

2 Farrokhrouz et al.

where H and h are the maximum and minimum horizontal REVIEW OF PREVIOUS RESEARCH
stresses, respectively; c is the uniaxial compressive strength
(UCS); and is the angle of internal friction. Although equation 1 Potential indicators
is a good estimator for maximum mud weight, the uncertainties in Lashkaripour and Dusseault (1993) accomplish laboratory ex-
the input parameters are large and therefore an accurate value of periments and suggest that among the eight parameters they mea-
compressive strength is essential. Among the parameters in equa- sured, porosity, mineralogy, water content, and Youngs modulus
tion 1, c may be the most critical one because it can help improve may be considered as appropriate input parameters for estimating
estimation of the other three parameters too. The friction angle and the UCS of the shale. Nevertheless, among these indicators, min-
c are related to each other based on the Mohr-Coulomb failure eralogy may not be often monitored accurately while drilling be-
criterion. Also, c is used for estimation of in situ stresses H cause it requires X-ray diffraction measurements in the lab. On
and h based on focal mechanism methodology (WSM, 2008). the other hand, water content in shale is difficult to measure because
2 Consequently, the UCS, as a parameter that represents the maxi- shales are basically impermeable formations (Chenevert and
mum strength of the rock, is a good indicator to evaluate the for- Sharma, 1991; Katsube et al., 1991; Best and Katsube, 1995).
mation competency and potential failure in advance (Horsrud, Hence, free water is only available between cracks, microfractures,
2001) or even during the drilling operation. These aspects have en- and laminations that it cannot be easily quantified while drilling.
couraged some operators to core and examine static mechanical Meanwhile, Plumb (1994) accomplishes statistical analysis on more
properties of potentially troublesome shales. Nevertheless, coring than 700 specimens of clastic rocks (sandstone and shale) and re-
provides only discrete data points over a very limited depth range. ports that Youngs modulus was found to be a more significant in-
Accordingly, there is an obvious need for methods that can provide dicator than porosity. Therefore, of the four parameters, porosity
shale properties on a more continuous basis and at lesser cost and Youngs modulus are more accessible to be quantified and
(Horsrud, 2001). Youngs modulus seems to be more significant than porosity.
Several empirical correlations are developed for estimating
mechanical properties of shales and mixed lithologies (Mason, Statistical correlations
1987; Onyia, 1988; Steiger and Leung, 1992). However, available
correlations often suffer from overrepresentation or underestima- Chang (2004) conducts a comprehensive review of empirical cor-
tion, which are not ideal for stability evaluation (Chang, 2004). relations proposed for the prediction of c in shales. He classified
Nevertheless, because of significant limitations and discrepancies these relations according to their dependence on Youngs modulus,
among previous works, we decided to conduct a more in-depth porosity, or sonic slowness (t), as listed in Table 1 from equa-
study to improve the accuracy of prediction of c for shale material. tions 211. An indirect inference from Table 1 is that c can be
An extensive review on lab measurements and predicting equations correlated with E and . This suggests that a relation comprising
revealed that Youngs modulus (E) and porosity () are widely used both parameters could improve the predictive power of the model.
to predict c , but no method uses both parameters. Therefore, we An important feature of Table 1 is the specificity of the proposed
proposed a new improved algorithm for estimating c in shale. Stat- relations to the geographic location and the source data. For in-
istical analysis based on geographic location of data demonstrated stance, Horsruds (2001) correlation is derived from North Sea
how E and porosity affect regional variations in c . Moreover, new shales, containing mainly high porosity specimens. But very often,
measurements of c , E, and porosity on Iranian shales confirmed shales at depth are basically considered low-porosity rocks.
the statistical observations. Finally, we compiled published data To investigate potential indicators, we studied the work of Bobko
and authors data as a single population and we developed a pre- and Ulm (2008), who consider the nanomechanical morphology of
diction equation for practical use. shale using statistical nanoindentation techniques to assess the

Table 1. Empirical correlation for shale formations based on different parameters (Chang, 2004).

Equation no. c (MPa) Location General remarks Reference

(2) 0.77 304.8t2.93 North Sea Mostly high-porosity Tertiary shale Horsrud (2001)
(3) 0.43 304.8t3.2 Gulf of Mexico Pliocene and younger
(4) 1.35 304.8t2.6 Worldwide
(5) 0.5 304.8t2.93 Gulf of Mexico
(6) 10 304.8t 1 North Sea Mostly high-porosity Tertiary shale Lal (1999)
(7) 7.97E0.91 North Sea Mostly high-porosity Tertiary shale Horsrud (2001)
(8) 7.22E0.712 Strong and compacted shale
(9) 1.001 1.143 UK, Canada, Low-porosity ( < 0.1) high-strength Lashkaripour and
and Australia (79 MPa) shale Dusseault (1993)
(10) 2.922 0.96 North Sea Mostly high-porosity Tertiary shale Horsrud (2001)
(11) 0.286 1.762 High-porosity ( > 0.27)
Uniaxial compressive strength of shale 3

properties of shales across scales. Accordingly, the determination of mentions that these samples had exceptionally high porosity up
mechanical microstructure and invariant material properties is of to 50% because of the age and shallow depth of the formations.
great importance for the development of predictive microporome- However, as the depth increased, the porosity decreased to 4%.
chanical models of the stiffness and strength of shale. They improve Three samples from Horsrud (2001) with extraordinarily large
understanding of the nature of shale behavior at nanoscale and sug- porosities were clay soils that cannot be considered as shale rock
gest future development of more sophisticated micromechanical specimens, and therefore the number of qualified shale samples was
models for elasticity and strength of shale formations. They observe reduced to nine. To these, we added data from a further four North
that building blocks of shale exhibit nanogranular behavior and Sea samples as reported by Stjern et al. (2003). Therefore, our North
their mechanical properties are more driven by packing density Sea data set contained 13 points. Laboratory experiments for deter-
of clay particles than their mineral properties. Therefore, they con- mining c and E on the foregoing samples were in accordance with
clude that it may be possible to define material invariant proper- ASTM procedures. 3
ties, by which they mean mechanical properties that depend neither Our experimental data set consists of 14 specimens of laminated
on the mineralogy nor the porosity of the specific shale material. and somewhat fissile calcareous shale. These samples have low to
These explanations help to some extent justify the present research medium porosity because of their fabric and depth of burial. These
for a global relation for the UCS of shale. specimens were obtained from dam construction project at depths of
Besides, a significant deficiency among previous works is that less than 50 m in southwest Iran. We accomplished experiments on
little attention has been paid on the rock mechanical explanation core samples for determining c and E using ASTM procedures.
of statistical results. We made our best effort to improve prediction The samples were 54 mm in diameter and lengths of 2.5 to 3 times
correlation through an empirical equation while mechanical and the diameter. Special care was taken to preserve the quality of rock
statistical aspects are both observed. An extensive literature review specimens. Accordingly, we applied a static axial load to each speci-
confirmed that: men continuously and monitored relative deformation as a function
1) Input data are often limited to a specific geographic location. of load. Youngs modulus was determined from the stress-strain
2) The correlations for each data set are also local. curve at 50% of the maximum strength. For all samples, we used
3) The error range for some prediction equations is as wide the free-water content test to estimate effective porosity, which is
as 50 MPa. determined by drying a small sample at 105C until a constant sam-
4) The porosity and Youngs modulus can have great influence on ple weight is reached.
the c of the shale. Overall, we gathered 61 data points from five different geo-
graphical locations including UK, Australia, Canada, the North
Hence, previous studies motivated us to investigate if a combi- Sea, and Iran. In the case of our data, we performed the UCS test
nation of porosity and static Youngs modulus (Es ) would improve in the vertical direction, perpendicular to the sample bedding. Other
the predictive accuracy. A key point here is that the dynamic data mentioned above were also acquired by testing in the vertical
Youngs modulus (Ed ) and porosity may be obtained directly direction relative to the bedding planes. Some other experimental
and continuously from geophysical well logging data, from the shale data from the literature did not qualify for one reason or an-
wireline, or even while drilling. Input parameters to estimate these other. For example, Lama and Vutukuri (1978) and Jizba (1991) do
quantities can be measured from sonic and density logs. However, a not report their procedures or other details such as testing direction
dynamic-to-static conversion is needed to estimate Es based on Ed , relative to bedding planes. Other authors do not report porosity val-
as discussed later in this paper. This implies a potentially significant ues or they report dynamic Youngs modulus rather than static
advantage compared to static lab experiments on selective samples. values.
In the first step of our statistical analysis, we grouped the data by
geographic locations as explained later. Then, we grouped the data
DATA COLLECTION derived from the literature together and we used Iranian shale data
We conducted a careful and comprehensive study to collect quali- to verify the result of the statistical analysis on the published data.
fied data from around the world. Data diversity could provide more Finally, our data from Iran were added to the published data set to
reliable statistical analysis and result in a prediction equation that is make a global data set comprising 61 sample points. To test whether
less dependent on geographic location and formation characteristics the global data set could be considered as a single population of
such as porosity, cementation, etc. We gathered a varied set of data shales, we applied several techniques to check for the population
from different places and at various times, dating from as early as normality.
1996. Lashkaripour (1996) reports valuable experimental studies on We conducted the Ryan-Joiner (R-J) normality test (Ryan and
34 shale specimens from UK, Australia, and Canada. A total of 19 Joiner, 1976) for the three parameters , E, and c to compare
UK specimens were obtained from open-cast sites in northern En- the empirical cumulative distribution function with the distribution
gland from coal measure sequences of the Upper Carboniferous. expected if the data were normal. The strength of evidence is de-
Five Australian specimens came from a site in northern Sydney scribed directly in terms of the R-J value and P-value. The P-value is
and sampled the Triassic Wianamatta Group mainly comprising the probability of obtaining a test statistic at least as extreme as the
shale, claystone, and siltstone lithologies. Ten Canadian specimens one that was actually observed, assuming that the null hypothesis is
were from Queenstone shale, described as fine-grained calcareous true. The null hypothesis states that there is no difference between
shale of Late Ordovician age. All 34 samples reported by Lashkar- our data and the normal data that is a straight line in Figures 1, 2,
ipour (1996) were used in this research. and 3. One often rejects the null hypothesis when the P-value is less
Horsrud (2001) reports 12 shale samples aged from Upper Juras- than the significance level, which is often 0.05 or 0.1. When the
sic to Tertiary Miocene taken from North Sea oil fields. Horsrud null hypothesis is rejected, the difference between the distribution
4 Farrokhrouz et al.

of the real data and the normal distribution is deemed to be sta- (with relatively stronger correlation) leading to variations in sug-
tistically significant. Therefore a P-value >0.05 means that the null gested equation constants.
hypothesis (that the distribution is normal) is accepted. A P-value
<0.05 means that the null hypothesis is rejected and the distribution
is not normal. As denoted in the captions of Figures 13, the P-value PRELIMINARY CORRELATION
is always >0.05 and so the 61 samples were accepted as coming We conducted a comparative analysis to evaluate the applicability
from a single population. of published correlations to our enlarged data set of 61 sample
The normal probability plot can also illustrate population normal- points. Figure 4 illustrates the scatter of all 61 data samples when
ity. If the population is normal, the ordered observations from the the UCS is plotted against Youngs modulus. From this figure, it can
sample population will form an approximately straight line. Fig- be seen that a prediction curve based on Youngs modulus alone has
ures 13 illustrate that the logarithmic values of porosity, Youngs a large scatter. The same trend is also observed in Figure 5 in which
modulus, and c are quite well plotted against a straight line. These the UCS is plotted against porosity. In both figures, the published
plots indicate that the global data set represents samples from a sin- correlations tend to underestimate the UCS value. Hence, we de-
gle normal population in terms of the three parameters. However, cided to seek a new empirical relation to improve the predictive
authors have recognized subgroups in terms of geographic locations power of the model.

Figure 1. Frequency distribution of porosity for

all data (P-value >0.1).

Figure 2. Frequency distribution of Youngs

modulus for all data (P-value >0.1).
Uniaxial compressive strength of shale 5

Using MINITAB 13.20 software, we carried out statistical where c is the UCS in MPa, E is Youngs modulus in GPa, is
analyses for different data subsets assuming that Youngs modulus porosity as a decimal fraction, and A, a, and b are equation
E and porosity both affect the strength of the shale samples. constants. Although this is just a heuristic algorithm, it confirms
The correlations found from these analyses are presented as physical observations that an increase in Youngs modulus will in-
equations 1219 in Table 2. Equations 20 and 21, however, are crease c and an increase in porosity will decrease the rock strength.
worked out to compare equation 19 against single-parameter as- Among prediction equations in Table 2, three characteristics may be
sumptions. In this table, E is the static Youngs modulus in GPa, identified as follows:
is the porosity as a decimal fraction, and c is the UCS in MPa. No
1) The value of c is proportional to some power of E.
predefined choice of equation was assigned. However, as it is seen
2) The value of is always inversely related to c .
in Table 2, the software suggested a particular algorithm for differ-
3) For the data sets tested, the exponents are observed to sum to
ent data sets. Compared to the previous works, for each subset
unity (a b 1).
from a specific geographic location, the correlation coefficient
R2 significantly improved. Looking at Figure 6, it is possible This relation is valid within the range of values encompassed by
to observe the goodness of fits for each data set and the related the global data set and is presented in Table 3.
equation. As mentioned earlier, the proposed method may be used to es-
The adjusted R2 (R2 adjusted for the number of independent var- timate the c value continuously from geophysical logs using the
iables in the model) and predicted R2 (that reflects how well the following well-known equations:
model will predict future data) were presented in Table 2 to adjust
R2 for unrepresentative statistical values. It should be clarified that V 2S 3V 2P 4V 2S
Ed ; (23)
we calculated R2 , adjusted R2 , and predicted R2 values as in Table 2, 2V 2P V 2S
and they are in reasonable agreement with each other. Adjusted R2
is especially important in this research because if unnecessary var-
iables are included, R2 can be misleadingly high. For all data sets, T log T ma
; (24)
adjusted R2 is close to R2 , which implies that variables E and T f T ma
contribute to the prediction equation. However, for different data
subsets, it is our hypothesis that the sensitivity of the response
where T f is the sonic interval transit time of the saturating fluid,
to each independent variable may depend on the range of porosity.
T log is the sonic log reading, T ma is the interval transit time of
To explore evidence for this hypothesis, we carried out further stat-
the matrix material, V P is the compressional wave velocity, V S is the
istical analysis that is described below. Equations 1219 in Table 2
shear wave velocity, and is the density that is obtained from the
for different data sets clearly reveal a key observation; that is,
density log. Meanwhile, porosity can also be estimated from density
a b 1. It is interesting to notice that this is always observed
log or a combination of acoustic and nuclear logging tools (Sen-
in spite of the variations of a and b with the geographic location
gel, 1981).
of data. Based on these analyses, the suggested equation can be
However, note that E in equation 22 is the static Youngs modu-
written in a general form as follows:
lus (Es ) derived from stress-strain curves measured in the labora-
tory. We tried to develop an improved method for estimating
c A ; (22) UCS in shales from geophysical log measurements. The application
b of Ed (equation 23) to predict c using equation 22 requires a

Figure 3. Frequency distribution of the UCS for

all data (P-value >0.087).
6 Farrokhrouz et al.

dynamic-to-static conversion to account for the difference between Table 2 based on the single-parameter equations 20 and 21 is
Es and Ed . Many authors suggest relations for the prediction of Es reasonably less than adjusted-R2 based on equation 19. Meanwhile,
based on Ed . Some of these relations were proposed for sedimentary larger adjusted-R2 for equation 21 compared to equation 20 clearly
rocks (e.g., Christaras et al., 1994; Brautigam et al., 1998), whereas reveals that Youngs modulus is a more significant indicator for pre-
others are applicable for all rock types (e.g., Fahimifar and Soroush, dicting c . Nonetheless, it is noticed that prediction equation based
2003; Mokovciakova and Pandula, 2003). Also, recently, Asef and on two parameters is independent of geographic location, which is
Najibi (2013) demonstrate how it is possible to predict elastic wave an important improvement in terms of practical applications.
velocities at atmospheric pressure based on the velocity measure- Table 4 lists the standard error and P-value (with commonly used
ments at different confining pressure levels. More comprehensive significance level of 5%) for the constants of the proposed corre-
correlations may be introduced in future. lations listed in Table 2 according to the data subsets. If the P-value
is below 5%, the null hypothesis is rejected. The relatively lower
standard error for constants A, a, and b in equation 19 compared
SENSITIVITY TO PARAMETERS to most of the other relations indicates the robustness of the global
model. In addition, the P-value of zero for all constants of equa-
Figure 6 illustrates the scatter of the predicted c against ob-
tion 19 in Table 4 implies that both parameters of E and signifi-
served values based on equation 19 for all 61 data samples on a
cantly contribute to the prediction equation (the null hypothesis that
45 symmetry line. If predicted values matched the observed values,
E and do not have significant contribution to the prediction equa-
all points would lie on the 45 line. The fairly symmetric scatter of
tion is rejected). On the other hand, in the case of North Sea data
points along the 45 line in Figure 6 visually reveals the verification
of the prediction. Furthermore, the adjusted-R2 for All data in (mainly high-porosity records) and Iranian data (mainly intermedi-

Eq. (7)
Eq. (8)

E (Gpa)

Figure 4. Plot of all data using equations 7 and 8 in Table 2 versus Figure 5. Plot of all data using equations 911 as in Table 2 versus
all data. all data.

Table 2. Prediction equations for different geographic locations.

Equation no. Location Equation Normal R2 Adjusted R2 Predicted R2 ab

(12) Australia c 6.05 E0.763 0.995 0.990 0.852 0.958
(13) Canada c 6.62 E0.448 0.944 0.922 0.825 0.950
(14) UK c 7.61 E0.283 0.880 0.858 0.827 1.073
(15) Above 3 sets c 10.38 0.502 0.871 0.863 0.851 0.762
(16) North Sea c 7.39 E0.153 0.905 0.886 0.860 0.887
(17) Iran c 5.47 E0.262 0.873 0.850 0.813 1.011
(18) Published data (except Iran) c 6.29 E0.504 0.890 0.885 0.872 1.027
(19) All data (including Iran) c 6.11 0.351 0.849 0.843 0.832 1.075
(20) c 4.97
0.89 0.617 0.611 0.597
(21) c 9.42E0.96 0.801 0.798 0.791
Uniaxial compressive strength of shale 7

ate to high porosity records), the corresponding relations 16 and 17 CONCLUSIONS

have high P-values for the porosity exponent constant b of 32.8%
and 18.6%, respectively. These are above the significance level of Based on a comprehensive review of published literature, we no-
5%, and so the null hypothesis is accepted for porosity. This sug- ticed discrepancy among equations for predicting UCS of shale
gests that in the case of shale formations with high porosity, is a material. Many authors published equations for predicting UCS
much less significant variable than E. from geophysically observable quantities E, , and t. We noticed
that no method uses two parameters to predict UCS. We established
a database of carefully selected published measurements from
around the world. We further perceived that to some extent, discrep-
ancy among previous equations could be related to the nature of
porosity of specimens at different geographic locations. However,
detailed statistical analysis for prediction of UCS based on geo-
graphic locations revealed that in case of shale formations, the con-
tribution of E is more than . Therefore, we made an effort to

propose a new algorithm combining the porosity and Youngs

modulus. In this context, a significant role of is that the predicted
equation would be independent of the geographic location. This re-
sulted in an improved predictive capability and new observations
about the role of porosity in explaining geographic variations in
the UCS of shale material. Furthermore, 14 new measurements
of the UCS, E, and porosity on Iranian shales contributed into
the analysis to verify the relation. Nevertheless, before our sug-
gested equation is applied in the field, a method for converting
the dynamic-to-static Youngs modulus is required.


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