Articles | Volume 3, issue 2
30 Jun 1999
30 Jun 1999

The pulsed migration of hydrocarbons across inactive faults

S. D. Harris, L. Elliott, and R. J. Knipe

Abstract. Geological fault zones are usually assumed to influence hydrocarbon migration either as high permeability zones which allow enhanced along- or across-fault flow or as barriers to the flow. An additional important migration process inducing along- or across-fault migration can be associated with dynamic pressure gradients. Such pressure gradients can be created by earthquake activity and are suggested here to allow migration along or across inactive faults which "feel" the quake-related pressure changes; i.e. the migration barriers can be removed on inactive faults when activity takes place on an adjacent fault. In other words, a seal is viewed as a temporary retardation barrier which leaks when a fault related fluid pressure event enhances the buoyancy force and allows the entry pressure to be exceeded. This is in contrast to the usual model where a seal leaks because an increase in hydrocarbon column height raises the buoyancy force above the entry pressure of the fault rock. Under the new model hydrocarbons may migrate across the inactive fault zone for some time period during the earthquake cycle. Numerical models of this process are presented to demonstrate the impact of this mechanism and its role in filling traps bounded by sealed faults.