Quartz c-axis orientation patterns in fracture cement as a measure of fracture opening rate and a validation tool for fracture pattern models

We evaluate a published model for crystal growth patterns in quartz cement in sandstone fractures by comparing crystal fracture-spanning predictions to quartz c-axis orientation distributions measured by electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD) of spanning quartz deposits. Samples from eight subvertical opening-mode fractures in four sandstone formations, the Jurassic–Cretaceous Nikanassin Formation, northwestern Alberta Foothills (Canada), Cretaceous Mesaverde Group (USA; Cozzette Sandstone Member of the Iles Formation), Piceance Basin, Colorado (USA), and upper Jurassic–lower Cretaceous Cotton Valley Group (Taylor sandstone) and overlying Travis Peak Formation, east Texas, have similar quartzose composition and grain size but contain fractures with different temperature histories and opening rates based on fluid inclusion assemblages and burial history. Spherical statistical analysis shows that, in agreement with model predictions, bridging crystals have a preferred orientation with c-axis orientations at a high angle to fracture walls. The second form of validation is for spanning potential that depends on the size of cut substrate grains. Using measured cut substrate grain sizes and c-axis orientations of spanning bridges, we calculated the required orientation for the smallest cut grain to span the maximum gap size and the required orientation of the crystal with the least spanning potential to form overgrowths that span across maximum measured gap sizes. We find that within a 10° error all spanning crystals conform to model predictions. Using crystals with the lowest spanning potential based on crystallographic orientation (c-axis parallel to fracture wall) and a temperature range for fracture opening measured from fluid inclusion assemblages, we calculate maximum fracture opening rates that allow crystals to span. These rates are comparable to those derived independently from fracture temperature histories based on burial history and multiple sequential fluid inclusion assemblages. Results support the R. Lander and S. Laubach model, which predicts that for quartz deposited synchronously with fracture opening, spanning potential, or likelihood of quartz deposits that are thick enough to span between fracture walls, depends on temperature history, fracture opening rate, size of opening increments, and size, mineralogy, and crystallographic orientation of substrates in the fracture wall (transected grains). Results suggest that EBSD maps, which can be more rapidly acquired than measurement of tens to hundreds of fluid inclusion assemblages, can provide a useful measure of relative opening rates within populations of quartz-filled fractures formed under sedimentary basin conditions. Such data are useful for evaluating fracture pattern development models.