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Permeability and fluid flow in natural mudstones

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Andrew Aplin


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This paper is part of the special publication No.158, Muds and mudstones: physical and fluid-flow properties (eds: A.C. Aplin, A.J. Fleet and J.H.S. Macquaker). Mudstone permeabilities vary by ten orders of magnitude and by three orders of magnitude at a single porosity. Much of the range at a given porosity can be explained by differences in grain size; at a given effective stress, coarser-grained mudstones are more permeable than finer-grained mudstones, although the difference diminishes with increased burial. Pore size distributions illustrate why more silt-rich mudstones are more permeable than finer mudstones and also show that the loss of porosity and permeability with increasing effective stress is driven primarily by the preferential collapse of large pores. Pore size distributions can also be used to estimate permeability rapidly. None of the existing models are ideal and need to be adjusted and validated through the acquisition of a much larger permeability database of well-characterized mudstones. We also examine the role of faults and fractures as fluid conduits in mudstones. The occurrence of microscopic hydrofractures is inferred from the observation that fluid pressures in sedimentary basins rarely exceed minimum leak-off pressures. The extent to which microfractures enhance mudstone permeability, both instantaneously and over longer periods of geological time, is poorly constrained. Although fault zones in mudstones have generally low permeability, there is abundant evidence for episodic flow along faults in tectonically active regions. The role of faults as fluid conduits during periods of tectonic quiescence is less certain, and the timing and extent of any enhanced permeability and enhanced flow are not well known. In general, conditions conducive to fluid flow along muddy faults include an increase in the activity of the fault, high fluid pressures within the fault zone and the extent of overconsolidation and lithification of the mudstones.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Dewhurst D, Yang Y, Aplin AC

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Geological Society Special Publication

Year: 1999

Volume: 158

Issue: 1

Pages: 23-43

Print publication date: 01/01/1999

ISSN (print): 0305-8719

ISSN (electronic):


DOI: 10.1144/GSL.SP.1999.158.01.03


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