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AAPG Bulletin


AAPG Bulletin, V. 103, No. 8 (August 2019), P. 1979-2008.

Copyright ©2019. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists. All rights reserved.

DOI: 10.1306/12181817393

Effective stress constraints on vertical flow in fault zones: Learnings from natural CO2 reservoirs

S. J. Naruk,1 J. G. Solum,2 J. P. Brandenburg,3 P. Origo,4 and D. E. Wolf5

1Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Houston, Houston, Texas; [email protected]
2Shell International E&P, Inc., Houston, Texas; [email protected]
3Haley & Aldrich, Inc., Oakland, California; [email protected]
4BP Exploration, Houston, Texas; [email protected]
5Estes Park Fire Department, Estes Park, Colorado; [email protected], [email protected]


Some fault zones leak vertically to the ground surface or seafloor, whereas most others remain naturally sealed. Understanding the factors that cause this leakage is essential for predicting and preventing such leakage for both conventional reservoir development and subsurface CO2 storage. This study, a comparison of leaking and nonleaking natural CO2 gas accumulations, provides such constraints. We compare and contrast trap configurations, fluid pressures, and stress states for several natural CO2 accumulations from the Colorado Plateau. Extensive surface geologic data are integrated with subsurface data from a large suite of groundwater and hydrocarbon wells. Leakage of CO2 is documented by geochemical surveys and the occurrence of extensive travertine deposits. The leakage occurs exclusively in fault fracture damage zones where the total fluid pressure reduces the minimum horizontal effective stress to approximately zero. These results are consistent with natural and accidentally induced fault seeps from some deep-water hydrocarbon reservoirs. These criteria can be used to evaluate the potential for fault zones to provide vertical leakage pathways and loss of fluid containment.

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