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Keywords:

  • borehole observatory;
  • CORK;
  • décollement;
  • ODP;
  • permeability

Abstract

A cased and sealed borehole in the Northern Barbados accretionary complex was the site of the first attempts to measure permeability in situ along a plate boundary décollement. Three separate efforts at Hole 949C yielded permeability estimates for the décollement spanning four orders of magnitude. An analysis of problems encountered during installation of the casing and seals provides insights into how the borehole conditions may have led to the wide range of results. During the installation, sediments from the surrounding formation repeatedly intruded into the borehole and casing. Stress analysis shows that the weak sediments were deforming plastically and the radial and tangential stresses around the borehole were significantly lower than lithostatic. This perturbed stress state may explain why the test pressure records showed indications of hydrofracture at pressures below lithostatic, and permeabilities rose rapidly as the estimated effective stress dropped below 0.8 MPa. Even after the borehole was sealed, the plastic deformation of the formation and relatively large gap of the wire wrapped screen allowed sediment to flow into the casing. Force equilibrium calculations predict sediment would have filled the borehole to 10 cm above the top of the screen by the time slug tests were conducted 1.5 years after the borehole was sealed. Reanalysis of the slug test results with these conditions yields several orders of magnitude higher permeability estimates than the original analysis which assumed an open casing. Overall the results based on only the tests with no sign of hydrofracture yield a permeability range of 10−14–10−15 m2 and a rate of increase in permeability with decreasing effective stress consistent with laboratory tests on samples from the décollement zone.