Assessing Fracture Connectivity using Stable and Clumped Isotope Geochemistry of Calcite Cements
Sumner, Kristina K.
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Understanding flow path connectivity within a geothermal reservoir is a critical component for efficiently producing sustained flow rates of hot fluids from the subsurface. I present a new approach for characterizing subsurface fracture connectivity that combines petrographic and cold cathodoluminescence (CL) microscopy with stable isotope analysis (δ18O and δ13C) and clumped isotope (Δ47) thermometry of fracture-filling calcite cements from a geothermal reservoir in northern Nevada. Calcite cement samples were derived from both drill cuttings and core samples taken at various depths from wells within the geothermal field. CL microscopy of some fracture filling cements shows banding parallel to the fracture walls as well as brecciation, indicating that the cements are related to fracture opening and fault slip. Variations in trace element composition indicated by the luminescence patterns reflect variations in the composition and source of fluids moving through the fractures as they opened episodically. Calcite δ13C and δ18O results also show significant variation among the sampled cements, reflecting multiple generations of fluids and fracture connectivity. Clumped isotope analyses performed on a subset of the cements analyzed for conventional δ18O and δ13C mostly show calcite growth temperatures around 150°C—above the current ambient rock temperature, which indicates a common temperature trend for the geothermal reservoir. However, calcite cements sampled along faults located within the well field showed both cold (18.7°C) and hot (226.1°C) temperatures. The anomalously cool temperature found along the fault, using estimates from clumped isotope thermometry, suggests a possible connection to surface waters for the geothermal source fluids for this system. This information may indicate that some of the faults within the well field are transporting meteoric water from the surface to be heated at depth, which then is circulated through a complex network of fractures and other faults.