The Effect of Authigenic Clays on Fault Zone Permeability

N. J. C. Farrell, N. Debenham, L. Wilson, M. J. Wilson, D. Healy, R. C. King, S. P. Holford, C. W. Taylor

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Clays are understood to form the majority of fluid-flow barriers in faulted reservoirs and numerous fault gouge and fault seal studies have quantified the volumes of smeared and abraded clays create fluid-flow barriers along fault surfaces. However, clay-related permeability adjacent to the fault surface, including in the fault damage zone, has largely been neglected. Previous studies have shown the morphology and distribution of unfaulted authigenic clays, and not just clay volume, exert a significant control on the magnitude of permeability. However, fault-related studies have neither characterized deformed authigenic clays nor addressed their influence on fluid-flow. In this study laboratory permeabilities of faulted, authigenic clay bearing sandstones sampled from the Otway basin (Australia) and the Orcadian basin (UK) present trends which; (a) do not correspond to expected patterns of fluid-flow in faulted clay-bearing sandstones and, (b) cannot be explained using published models of permeability related to changing clay volume. Microscopic analysis shows that faulting has disaggregated authigenic clays and, similarly to framework grain deformation, comminuted and sheared clay grains. However, instead of impeding fluid-flow, analysis of pore networks (using mercury injection porosimetry) showed that faulting of authigenic clays has increased pore connectivity, contributing to increased magnitude of permeability and development of permeability anisotropy. Contrary to published results of faulting and fluid-flow in impure sandstones, our results show that fault related processes involving the formation of clays in the fault zone can increase permeability and reduce the capillary threshold pressures of fault rocks relative to the unfaulted host rock.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2021JB022615
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 4 Oct 2021


  • permeability
  • authigenic clay
  • fault seal
  • sandstone
  • capillary threshold pressure


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