Seal capacity estimation from subsurface pore pressures
H.M. Nordgård Bolås, C. Herman and G.M.G. Teige
Journal name: Basin Research
Issue: Vol 17, No 4, December 2005 pp. 583 - 599
Info: Article, PDF ( 279.85Kb )
A cap rock’s capacity to seal hydrocarbons depends on its wettability and the sizes of the pore throats within the interconnected pore system that the leaking hydrocarbons must penetrate. These critical pore throat sizes are often poorly constrained in hydrocarbon exploration, partly because measurements of pore throat sizes have not been performed, and partly because pore throat measurements on a few individual samples in the cap rock may not be representative for the seal capacity of the top seal as awhole. To the contrary, the presence of formation overpressure can normally be estimated in drilled exploration targets. The presence of overpressure in reservoirs testifies to small pore throats in the cap rocks, as large pore throats will result in sufficiently high cap rock permeability to bleed off the overpressure. We suggest a stepwise procedure that enables quantification of top seal capacities of overpressured traps, based on subsurface pressure information. This procedure startswith the estimation of cap rock permeabilities, which are consistent with observed overpressure gradients across the top seals. Knowledge of burial histories is essential for these estimations. Relationships between pore throat size and permeability from laboratory experiments are then applied to estimate critical pore throat diameters in cap rocks. These critical pore throat diameters, combined with information of the physical properties of the pore fluids, are then used to calculate membrane seal capacity of cap rocks. Estimates of top seal capacity based on this procedure are rather sensitive to the vertical fluid velocity, but they are also to some extent sensitive to inaccuracies of the pore throat/permeability relationship, overpressure gradient, interfacial tensions between pore fluids, hydrocarbon density andwater viscosity values. Despite these uncertainties, applications of the above-mentioned procedure demonstrated that the mere presence of reservoir overpressures testifies to sufficient membrane seal capacity of cap rocks for most geological histories. Exempt from this statement are basins with rapid and substantial sediment compaction in the recent past.