The role of permeability evolution in fault zones on the structural and hydro-mechanical characteristics of shortening basins

Roozbeh Foroozan, Derek Elsworth, Peter Flemings, Frank Bilotti, Sankar Muhuri

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5 Scopus citations


We examine the role of basin-shortening on the development of structural compartments in passive margin basins. A coupled flow-deformation model is used to follow the evolution of an idealized prismatic basin during lateral shortening. This includes the deformation-induced generation (lateral compaction) and dissipation (hydraulic fracturing) of pore fluid pressures and the resulting natural evolution of an underlying décollement and subsidiary fault structures. This model is used to examine the influence of strata stiffnesses, strain softening, permeability-strain dependence, permeability contrast between layers, and deformation rate on the resulting basin structure and to infer fluid charge within these structures. For a geometry with a permeability contrast at the base of the basin a basal décollement forms as the basin initially shortens, excess pore pressures build from the impeded drainage and hydrofracturing releases fluid mass and resets effective stresses. As shortening continues, thrust faults form, nucleating at the décollement. Elevated pore pressures approaching the lithostat are localized at the hanging wall boundary of the faults. Faults extend to bound blocks that are vertically offset to yield graben-like structural highs and lows and evolve with distinctive surface topography and separate pore pressure signatures. Up-thrust blocks have elevated fluid pressures and reduced effective stresses at their core, and down-thrust blocks the converse. The development of increased permeability on localized fault structures is a necessary condition to yield this up-thrust and down-thrust geometry. In the anti-physical case where evolution of permeability with shear strain is artificially suppressed, pervasive shear develops throughout the basin depth as fluid pressures are stabilized everywhere to the lithostat. Correspondingly, permeability evolution with shear is an important, likely crucial, feedback in promoting localization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-151
Number of pages9
JournalMarine and Petroleum Geology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Geophysics
  • Geology
  • Economic Geology
  • Stratigraphy


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