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Estimating Permeability

based on Pore Dimension

Estimating Permeability
based on Pore Dimension

 This page discusses single phase permeability

models that are specifically based on the pore
dimensions of the reservoir.

 Pore dimensions are a critical factor in determining

crucial characteristics of the reservoir; including
porosity, permeability, and capillary pressure
Capillary Pressure and Pore size

 The dimension of interconnected pores plays a major

role in determining permeability. Most methods of
estimating permeability are indirect methods.

 A viable direct method requires both adequate

theoretical underpinnings relating pore throat
dimension to permeability and experimental
determination of the critical pore dimension

 Many authors have made use of the capillary pressure

curve, obtained experimentally by injecting mercury
into a dried sample. As mercury pressure is increased,
more mercury is forced into progressively smaller pores
in the rock, and the resident pore fluid (air) is expelled.
A length r, usually referred to as the pore throat radius, is
related to the injection pressure by the Washburn equation,
Pc = 2σCosθ/r
σ= is the interfacial tension, θ= is the wetting angle

The injection process can be visualized by examining the

idealized capillary pressure curve of Fig. 1. A finite pressure
is required to inject mercury into a 100% water-saturated
sample (right side of Fig. 1).

At the first inflection point (entry pressure), mercury

occupies only a small fraction of the pore volume containing
the largest pores. Next, much of the pore space becomes
filled with mercury with a comparatively slight increase in
pressure (progressing from the circle labeled Katz and
Thompson to the circle labeled Swanson in Fig. 1).
Capillary pressure curve (idealized) showing measures used by different
authors for determination of characteristic pore dimension.
Finally, large pressure increases are required to force more
mercury into the smallest pores (steep curve to left of Swanson

Many authors have linked capillary pressure curves to

permeability. Purcell derived an expression relating k to an
integral of Pc-2 over the entire saturation span, achieving a
good match with core data. The relationships established by
Timur and Granberry and Keelan, are represented at low water
saturation in Fig. 1. Contributions by Swanson, Winland, and
Katz and Thompson,symbolized by the circles in Fig. 1, are
reviewed below.
Swanson’s equation

 Swanson provides a method of determining air and brine

permeabilities from a single point on the capillary pressure
curve. His regression relationships are based on permeability
and capillary pressure data on 203 sandstone samples from
41 formations and 116 carbonates from 33 formations.

 His method picks the maximum ratio of mercury saturation

to pressure, (Sb/Pc)max, from the capillary pressure curve,
arguing that at this point all the connected space is filled with
mercury and "this capillary pressure corresponds to pore
sizes effectively interconnecting the total major pore system
and, thus, those that dominate fluid flow." From linear
 Swanson obtains simple equations of the form,

k = a (Sb/Pc)c max

where the constants a and c depend on the following:

Rock type (carbonate vs. sandstone)
Fluid type (air or brine)
For carbonates and sandstones combined, c=2.005.

 Because Sb is defined as the mercury saturation as

percent of bulk volume, it must be proportional to
Φ(1-Sw); through Eq. 1, Pc can be linked with a pore
throat radius r apex . Thus, Swanson’s result shows
that k is proportional to [Φ(1-Swi)rapex]2, again
demonstrating the dependence of k on the square of a
pore throat size.
Winland’s equation and Pittman’s results

An empirical equation relating permeability, porosity, and a

capillary pressure parameter is referred to as Winland’s equation.
Based on laboratory measurements on 312 samples, Winland’s
regression equation is

Logr35 = 0.732 +0.588log k- 0.8641 logɸ

r35 is the pore throat radius at 35% mercury saturation
k is air permeability
Φ is porosity in percent
A log(k)-Φ plot based on Eq. 4 and showing five characteristic
lines for pore throat radius is shown in Fig. 2.
 Note that at a given porosity, permeability increases
roughly as the square of the pore throat radius. And for a
given throat size, the dependence of permeability on
porosity is slightly less than Φ2.

 Kolodzie states that a pore throat size of 0.5 μm was

used as a cutoff for reserves determinations, in preference
to the use of k or Φ.

 Hartmann and Coalson also present Winland’s equation

in the same format as Fig. 2. They state that r35 is a
function of both entry size and pore throat sorting and is a
good measure of the largest connected pore throats in a
rock with intergranular porosity
Empirical model based on regression attributed to Winland, from
Kolodzie. Labels for four ranges of r35 are taken from Martin et al.
 Martin et al. used the r35 parameter, along with other
petrophysical, geological, and engineering data, to identify flow
units in five carbonate reservoirs. With Eq. 4, r35 can be computed
from permeability and porosity measurements on core samples.

 Flow units are grouped by the size of pore throats using the
designations, as shown in Fig. 2, of:

 A completion analysis for the different r35 size ranges in a

reservoir of medium thickness and medium gravity oil yielded the
Megaport, tens of thousands of barrels of oil per day
Macroport, thousands
Mesoport, hundreds
Microport, nonreservoir
Macro porosity :Refers to pores
greater than 50 nm in diameter.
Flow through macropores is
described by bulk diffusion.

Meso porosity :Refers to pores

greater than 2 nm and less than 50
nm in diameter. Flow through
mesopores is described by Knudsen

Micro porosity :Refers to pores

smaller than 2 nm in diameter.
Movement in micropores is by
activated diffusion.
 After flow units are identified, well logs and sequence stratigraphy
are used to identify zones with similar properties where no core data
exist. The method works well in carbonates where flow is controlled
by intergranular, intercrystalline, or interparticle pore space but not so
well if fractures or vugs are present.

 Pittman sheds additional light on Winland’s equation, linking it to

Swanson’s results. Pittman used a set of 202 sandstone samples from
14 formations on which k, Φ, and mercury injection data had been
obtained. Using Eq. 2, he associated a pore size rapex with the capillary
pressure, Pc, determined by Swanson’s method and found that the
mean value of rapex has a mercury saturation of 36%.

 That is, on a statistical basis, the points denoted by circles labeled

Swanson and Winland in Fig. 1 are practically identical, and the two
methods are sampling the same fraction of the pore space.
 Pittman also established regression equations for pore
aperture sizes ranging from 10% to 75% mercury saturation.
His expressions have been rearranged and displayed in Table 1
to show the exponents of r and Φ required to predict k.
(Because r was used as the dependent variable in Pittman’s
regressions, the coefficients in Table 1 differ somewhat from
what would be obtained if k were the dependent variable;
however the changes would not invalidate the point of this

 Note that, with increasing mercury saturation:

r exponent decreases
Φ exponent increases
That is, the porosity term contributes relatively less to k than
does r for mercury saturation values <35%. In fact, Pittman
noted that the porosity term was statistically insignificant for
r10 through r35.
Katz and Thompson’s equation
 Another investigation on the influence of pore structure on flow
properties comes from Katz and Thompson and Thompson et al. They use
percolation theory to derive a deceptively simple relationship,

k = (1/226)lc2σ/σo
•k is absolute permeability (same units as )
•σ is electrical conductivity of the rock
•σo is the conductivity of the saturant

 The value of the constant, given as 1/226, is dependent on the

geometry assumed for the pore space.
They substantiate Eq. 5a with experimental data on 60 sandstone and
carbonate samples with permeabilities ranging from <1 md to 5 darcies.
 The parameter lc in Eq. 5a represents a dimension of a very particular subset
of pores: "The arguments suggest that permeability can be estimated by
assuming that the effective pore size is the smallest pore on the connected path
of pores containing the largest pores. We call that effective pore size lc." To
obtain lc, the pressure at the inflection point on a capillary pressure curve is
converted to a diameter. The authors argue that the inflection point marks the
pressure at which a sample is first filled continuously end to end with mercury
and that the large pores first filled are those that control permeability.

 The Katz and Thompson equation and its characteristic curves are given in
Fig. 3. To plot curves on log(k)-Φ plots, we assumed the simplest relation
between formation factor and porosity (cementation exponent of 2.0), σ/σo=Φ2.
Some data points from Katz and Thompson’s experiments are posted in Fig. 3
to indicate how well their measured lc match the curves (This is not really a test
of their model because they used formation factor in their correlations, not Φ2).
Their result is similar to that of Swanson’s and Winland’s equations:
Permeability is closely proportional to the square of rΦ.
Permeability equation with critical pore-size radius (Rc) as a
parameter, from Katz and Thompson.[Values of rc posted next
to data points are from mercury injection tests.
To obtain compatibility with other author’s expressions, we define a
critical radius rc=lc/2, keeping both permeability and rc2 in units of μm2

k = (4/226)rc2σ/σo
Eq. 5b is identical in form to the Kozeny-Carman equation with
tortuosity eliminated, but the percolation concepts used to derive Eq.
5b are quite different from the geometrical arguments used to derive the
Kozeny-Carman expression. The Kozeny-Carman coefficient, which is
≈0.4, is considerably greater than that (0.0177) in Eq. 4b.
Consequently, the characteristic radius rc is ≈4.7 times greater than the
hydraulic radius, rh. Although rh is defined as the ratio of pore volume
to pore surface area, it can be determined in a variety of ways,
including the use of mercury injection.

Conceptually, then, the Kozeny-Carman equation could also be

represented by an extended horizontal line across Fig. 1; i.e., as a
method that samples a broad spectrum of pore sizes
It is interesting to compare the Katz and Thompson model (Fig. 3) with
Winland’s empirical equation (Fig. 2). The shapes of the curves are
comparable; i.e., the models agree on the approximate Φ2 dependence.

The pore radii given by the Winland equation are smaller than comparable
radii in the Katz and Thompson model. This is expected because the
Winland equation requires a saturation of 35%, a criterion of greater
injection pressure than that of Katz and Thompson. What is noteworthy is
the general agreement between the two models regarding the form of the
log(k)-Φ relationship. They demonstrate that in the models invoking higher
powers of Φ, which we have shown in previous graphs are not well
grounded physically, the higher powers of Φ are required to compensate for
lack of knowledge regarding the critical pore dimension.

It does seem, however, that the empirical data that often show a "straight-
line" log(k)-Φ relationship contain some fundamental information regarding
how the critical pore dimension relates to porosity.
Flow zone indicator
Amaefule and Altunbay rearranged the version of the Kozeny-Carman
equation with specific surface area as ratio of pore surface to grain
volume to obtain a parameter group named the flow zone indicator (I),

I= 1/√(fτ) Σg = [0.0314 √ (k/φ)/(1- φ)/ φ)

where the factor 0.0314 allows k to be expressed in millidarcies. As

can be seen from Eq. 5, I has the units of pore size, in micrometers,
and can be computed from core measurements of k and φ, even though
it is defined in terms of f, τ, and Σg, which are not easily measured.

The choice of the form used over other forms of the Kozeny-Carman
equation that use alternative definition of specific surface area seems a
bit arbitrary and results in the particular combination of porosity terms
used in Eq. 6.
Amaefule and Altunbay use I to define zones called "hydraulic flow
units" on a doubly logarithmic plot incorporating the terms in Eq. 6. For
compatibility with other plots in this chapter, a plot in log(k)-Φ
coordinates is shown in Fig. 4. Each data point on a log(k)-Φ plot has an
I value that associates it with a nearby curve of constant I value.

The difficult step is deciding where the boundaries between adjacent I

bands should be positioned and how to compute a value of I from well
logs in uncored wells. Options for doing so are described in Estimating
permeability from well log data.
f = shape factor
I = flow zone indicator
k = permeability
lc = pore-space dimension
p = pressure
Pc = capillary pressure
rh = hydraulic radius
r35 = pore throat radius at 35% mercury saturation
R = pore throat dimension
Sb = mercury saturation
θ = wetting angle
σ = electrical conductivity of rock
σo = electrical conductivity of saturant
σ = interfacial tension
Σp = ratio of pore surface area to pore volume
Σr = ratio of pore surface area to rock volume
Σg = ratio of pore surface area to grain volume
Σ = specific surface area
τ = tortuosity
Φ = porosity
Measuring Pore and Pore throat sizes

When a sample contains oil

or gas and water (where
water wets the grain
surface), the pore throat size
(B) for oil or gas flow is less
than the absolute pore throat
size (A). The thickness of
the water layer coating the
grains is proportional to the
Sw of the rock. In other
words, as buoyancy pressure
increases, Sw decreases and
the effective size of the pore
throat for oil or gas flow (B)
Measuring Pore and Pore throat sizes
Absolute size of a pore throat is the radius of a circle drawn
perpendicular to fluid flow and fitting within its narrowest point.
Absolute size of a pore is the radius of the largest sphere that will fit
inside it. The cross-sectional shape of fluids moving through
intergranular porosity is roughly circular. Both pores and pore throats
can be divided into petrophysically significant size ranges.

illustrates the concepts of pore size and pore throat size determined by
measuring the radius of a sphere in the pore and the radius of a disk in
the pore throat. Pore size can be estimated visually by using an SEM
(scanning electron microscope), for example. Pore throat sizes for a rock
can be measured using capillary pressure–mercury injection tests, which
can be converted to a distribution or profile of pore throat sizes for a
sample. Erlich et al.[2] describe a procedure for estimating pore and pore
throat size from thin section image analysis.
Measuring Pore and Pore throat sizes

Aspect ratio is the ratio of pore

size to pore throat size.
Geometrical reasoning and
limited experimental data suggest
that aspect ratios have small
ranges in intergranular and
intercrystalline pore systems (see
Reservoir quality). Disparate
Archie rock types such as quartz-
cemented sandstones, bioturbated
sandstones, and sucrosic
dolomites have aspect ratios that
range between 5:1 and 10:1. Non-
Archie rock types have even
larger variations in aspect ratios.
Capillary pressure (Pc) curves:
Pore throat size determination

Pc curves are a rock property measurement that relates the volume of

pore space controlled by pore throats of a given size (usually given in
microns) to a given capillary pressure

Pc is the resistant force to hydrocarbon migration. It is a function of the

interfacial tension (γ), the wettability (Θ), and pore throat radius (r). Pc
increases with decreasing pore throat size, increasing interfacial tension,
and increasing contact angle (greater oil wetting). It can be expressed as
2γ Cosθ

This expression assumes the capillary phenomenon occurs within a tube

with a circular cross section. Real pores only approximate this, and then
only if they are intergranular or inter crystalline.
Capillary test procedure

In a mercury capillary pressure test, a rock with a measured porosity

is immersed in a mercury pressure cell. The pressure in the cell is
raised to a predetermined pressure level (P1, Figure 1).

When the cell comes to equilibrium, the volume of injected mercury

is measured (V2). Since the porosity of the test sample is known prior
to the test, the volume of injected mercury can be converted to the
percent of the total pore volume filled with mercury (for example,
10% at 10 psi68.948 kPa 0.0689 MPa 0.68 atm for point M1).

All the pores filled with mercury at this point in the test have at least
one 10μ pore throat radius or larger and represent 10% of the sample's
pore volume. This procedure is repeated several more times at
different pressures (for example, points M2 through M5).
Example of a mercury capillary pressure test
Pore throat profiles
A curve is drawn through the measured points at test completion. This
capillary pressure curve also represents a pore throat size profile for the
tested sample. It relates a given pore throat size to its capillary resistance
(Pc). Figure 2 shows the curve drawn through the points in Figure 1

Converting capillary pressure to pore throat size

Capillary pressure curves are converted to profiles of pore throat
size by solving the previous equation for r:

Capillary pressure for a given Sw can also be converted to an

approximation of height above free water (h) within a reservoir system.
From a capillary pressure curve at a given Sw, we read the capillary
pressure and multiply it by a factor that converts Pc to buoyancy
pressure (Pb). If the conversion factor is not known, we use 0.4 for gas
and 0.7 for oil.
Curve drawn through the points in Figure 1.
Using pc to estimate h and r
Use the table below to estimate height above free water (h) and
pore throat radius (r) from a mercury capillary pressure curve

To estimate Follow this procedure

1.Enter the X-axis at percent pore volume

(Sw value).
Pore throat size ( r ) from Sw 2. At the intersectionof grid line and Pc
curve, read the corresponding value for
r on the Y-axis

1.Enter the X-axis at percent pore volume

(Sw value).
2. At the intersectionof grid line and Pc
curve, read the corresponding value for
Height above free water level (h) from Sw
Pc on the left Y-axis
3. Multiply Pc by the appropriate gradient
(as a rule of thumb, use 0.7 for oil, 0.4
for gas).
Using the curve in Figure 3, if Sw = 20% (point 1), then the mercury
capillary pressure (Pc) that must be overcome to enter pore throats at that
point on the curve is 200 (point 2). Converting mercury Pc to hydrocarbon
column height (h):

h = 200 psi x0.7 = 140 ft of oil column

h = 200 psi x0.4= 80 ft of oil column

The minimum pore throat radius entered when Sw is 20% and Pc is

200 psi is 0.5μ.
Example of a mercury capillary pressure test.
Comparison between NMR Relaxation time and
Mercury-Injection pore throat size distributions