Published online by Cambridge University Press: 02 January 2018
One of the most challenging aspects of understanding the flow of gas and water during testing in clay-rich low-permeability materials is the difficulty in visualizing localized flow. Whilst understanding has been increased using X-ray Computed-tomography (CT) scanning, synchrotron X-ray imaging and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) imaging, real-time testing is problematic under realistic in situ conditions confining pressures, which require steel pressure vessels. These methods tend not to have the nano-metre scale resolution necessary for clay mineral visualization, and are generally not compatible with the long duration necessary to investigate flow in such materials. Therefore other methods are necessary to visualize flow paths during post-mortem analysis of test samples. Several methodologies have been established at the British Geological Survey (BGS), in order to visualize flow paths both directly and indirectly. These include: (1) the injection of fluorescein-stained water or deuterium oxide; (2) the introduction of nanoparticles that are transported by carrier gas; (3) the use of radiologically tagged gas; and (4) the development of apparatus for the direct visualization of clay. These methodologies have greatly increased our understanding of the transport of water and gas through intact and fractured clay-rich materials. The body of evidence for gas transport through the formation of dilatant pathways is now considerable. This study presents observations using a new apparatus to directly visualize the flow of gas in a kaolinite paste. The results presented provide an insight into the flow of gas in clay-rich rocks. The flow of gas through dilatant pathways has been shown in a number of argillaceous materials (Angeli et al., 2009; Autio et al., 2006; Cuss et al., 2014; Harrington et al., 2012). These pathways are pressure induced and an increase in gas pressure leads to the dilation of pathways. Once the gas breakthrough occurs, pressure decreases and pathways begin to close. This new approach is providing a unique insight into the complex processes involved during the onset, development and closure of these dilatant gas pathways.
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