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Permeability characteristics of mudstone cap rock and interlayers in bedded salt formations and tightness assessment for underground gas storage caverns

Liu, Wei, Li, Yinping, Yang, Chunhe, Daemen, Jaak J.K., Yang, Yun, Zhang, Guimin
Engineering geology 2015 v.193 pp. 212-223
X-ray diffraction, clay minerals, engineering, feldspar, models, mudstone, permeability, quartz, scanning electron microscopes, scanning electron microscopy
Permeability of nonsaline cap rock and interlayers is a key parameter for the assessment of the tightness of gas storage caverns in bedded salt formations. X-ray Diffraction, permeability tests, Scanning Electron Microscope studies and theoretical analyses have been performed for the mudstone cap rock and interlayers of a potential cavern in a bedded salt formation. The results show that the permeability of cap rock and interlayers is in the range of 10⁻¹⁸–10⁻²⁰m², whereas the interface in between salt and interlayer behaves as if impervious. Applied confinement conditions significantly affect the permeability. The higher the applied hydrostatic pressure, the lower the permeability. Permeability decreases more than one order of magnitude with hydrostatic pressure increases, up to a certain “compression threshold pressure”. Permeability remains virtually constant, at an extremely low magnitude, once the hydrostatic pressure exceeds this “compression threshold pressure”. The intrinsic reasons for the low permeability have been revealed by SEM studies, and are as follows: (1) the grains making up the bulk of the mudstone are very small and extremely tightly cemented; secondary minute clay minerals completely fill the pores and fissures between grains of quarts and feldspar, etc., resulting in very little residual void space and reducing connectivity for fluid penetration; and (2) the boundaries between quartz, feldspar and other grains are mainly plate-shape cracks that are poorly interconnected while the finer matrix is very tight and crack-free. The mechanical compaction investigation shows that the plate-shape cracks are much easier to be compacted than sphere-shape pores, which contributes significantly to the decrease in permeability. A capillary tube model suggests that permeability decreases very rapidly in the initial stages of compaction, but decreases extremely slowly in subsequent stages. So the permeability obviously behaves differently before and after the “compression threshold pressure”. By comparison with previous studies, the research we launched demonstrates that the cap rock and interlayers are characterized by extremely low permeability in compression regions. Hence the requirements of tightness (except for the possible presence of Excavation Disturbed Zones) are basically guaranteed. Also, a recommendation is expressed as: to ensure higher tightness and safety, reasonable design and operating programs should be adopted to reduce the EDZs as much as possible.