Permeabilites of fault-related rocks and implications for fault-zone hydraulic structure

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Journal of Structural Geology



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The permeability structure of a fault zone in granitic rocks has been investigated by laboratory testing of intact core samples from the unfaulted protolith and the two principal fault zone components; the fault core and the damaged zone. The results of two test series performed on rocks obtained from outcrop are reported. First, tests performed at low confining pressure on 2.54-cm-diameter cores indicate how permeability might vary within different components of a fault zone. Second, tests conducted on 5.1-cm-diameter cores at a range of confining pressures (from 2 to 50 MPa) indicate how variations in overburden or pore fluid pressures might influence the permeability structure of faults. Tests performed at low confining pressure indicate that the highest permeabilities are found in the damaged zone (10−16–10−14 m2), lowest permeabilities are in the fault core (< 10−20–10−17 m2), with intermediate permeabilities found in the protolith (10−17–10−16 m2). A similar relationship between permeability and fault zone structure is obtained at progressively greater confining pressure. Although the permeability of each sample decays with increasing confining pressure, the protolith sustains a much greater decline in permeability for a given change in confining pressure than the damaged zone or fault core. This result supports the inference that protolith samples have short, poorly connected fractures that close more easily than the greater number of more throughgoing fractures found in the damaged zone and fault core. The results of these experiments show that, at the coreplug scale, the damaged zone is a region of higher permeability between the fault core and protolith. These results are consistent with previous field-based and in-situ investigations of fluid flow in faults formed in crystalline rocks. We suggest that, where present, the two-part damaged zone-fault core structure can lead to a bulk anisotropy in fault zone permeability. Thus, fault zones with well-developed damaged zones can lead to enhanced fluid flow through a relatively thin tabular region parallel to the fault plane, whereas the fault core restricts fluid flow across the fault. Although this study examined rocks collected from outcrop, correlation with insitu flow tests indicates that our results provide inexact, but useful, insights into the hydromechanical character of faults found in the shallow crust.

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