Compression and permeability behavior of natural mudstones



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Mudstones compose nearly 70% of the volume of sedimentary basins, yet they are among the least studied of sedimentary rocks. Their low permeability and high compressibility contribute to overpressure around the world. Despite their fundamental importance in geologic processes and as seals for anthropogenic-related storage, a systematic, process-based understanding of the interactions between porosity, compressibility, permeability, and pore-size distribution in mudstones remains elusive. I use sediment mixtures composed of varying proportions of natural mudstone such as Boston Blue Clay or Nankai mudstone and silt-sized silica to study the effect of composition on permeability and compressibility during burial. First, to recreate natural conditions yet remove variability and soil disturbance, I resediment all mixtures in the laboratory to a total stress of 100 kPa. Second, in order to describe the systematic variation in permeability and compressibility with clay fraction, I uniaxially consolidate the resedimented samples to an effective stress equivalent to about 2 km of burial under hydrostatic conditions. Scanning electron microscope images provide insights on microstructure. My experiments illuminate the controls on mudstone permeability and compressibility. At a given porosity, vertical permeability increases by an order of magnitude for clay contents ranging from 59% to 34% by mass whereas compressibility reduces by half at a given vertical effective stress. I show that the pore structure can be described by a dual-porosity system, where one rock fraction is dominated by silt where large pores are present and the majority of flow occurs and the other fraction is dominated by clay where limited flow occurs. I use this concept to develop a coupled compressibility-permeability model in order to predict porosity, permeability, compressibility, and coefficient of consolidation. These results have fundamental implications for a range of problems in mudstones. They can be applied to carbon sequestration, hydrocarbon trapping, basin modeling, overpressure distribution and geometry as well as morphology of thrust belts, and an understanding of gas-shale behavior.