Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. We propose a numerical method that couples a cohesive zone model (CZM) and a finite element-based continuum damage mechanics (CDM) model. The CZM represents a mode II macro-fracture, and CDM finite elements (FE) represent the damage zone of the CZM. The coupled CZM/CDM model can capture the flow of energy that takes place between the bulk material that forms the matrix and the macroscopic fracture surfaces. The CDM model, which does not account for micro-crack interaction, is calibrated against triaxial compression tests performed on Bakken shale, so as to reproduce the stress/strain curve before the failure peak. Based on a comparison with Kachanov's micro-mechanical model, we confirm that the critical micro-crack density value equal to 0.3 reflects the point at which crack interaction cannot be neglected. The CZM is assigned a pure mode II cohesive law that accounts for the dependence of the shear strength and energy release rate on confining pressure. The cohesive shear strength of the CZM is calibrated by calculating the shear stress necessary to reach a CDM damage of 0.3 during a direct shear test. We find that the shear cohesive strength of the CZM depends linearly on the confining pressure. Triaxial compression tests are simulated, in which the shale sample is modeled as an FE CDM continuum that contains a predefined thin cohesive zone representing the idealized shear fracture plane. The shear energy release rate of the CZM is fitted in order to match to the post-peak stress/strain curves obtained during experimental tests performed on Bakken shale. We find that the energy release rate depends linearly on the shear cohesive strength. We then use the calibrated shale rheology to simulate the propagation of a meter-scale mode II fracture. Under low confining pressure, the macroscopic crack (CZM) and its damaged zone (CDM) propagate simultaneously (i.e., during the same loading increments). Under high confining pressure, the fracture propagates in slip-friction, that is, the debonding of the cohesive zone alternates with the propagation of continuum damage. The computational method is applicable to a range of geological injection problems including hydraulic fracturing and fluid storage and should be further enhanced by the addition of mode I and mixed mode (I+II+III) propagation. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.