Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Engineering Science

First Advisor

Harpalani, Satya


The cleat permeability of coal, a key to the success of any coalbed methane (CBM) recovery operation, is a dynamic parameter impacted by changes in effective stress and desorption-induced "matrix shrinkage". Most commonly-used theoretical models developed to predict CBM production as a result of permeability changes are based on the assumption that the deformation of a depleting coalbed is limited to the vertical direction; that is, the coal is under uniaxial strain conditions. However, most laboratory studies completed to estimate the changes in coal permeability have used triaxial state of stress, thus violating the underlying principles of the models. An experimental study was, therefore, undertaken to estimate the permeability variation of coal with a decrease in pore pressure under replicated in situ conditions where flow through coal, held under uniaxial strain conditions, was measured. Three samples were tested, one from the San Juan basin and the other two from the Illinois basin. The experimental results showed that, under uniaxial strain conditions, decreasing pore pressure resulted in a significant decrease in horizontal stress and increased permeability. The permeability increased non-linearly with decreasing pore pressure, with a small increase in the high pressure range, which increased progressively as the pressure dropped below a certain value. The experimental results were used to validate two theoretical models, namely the Palmer and Mansoori and Shi and Durucan, commonly used to project permeability variation with continued production. The models failed to provide good agreement with the experimental results below 300 psi, suggesting a shortcoming in the modeling philosophy. Although the measured permeability and stress changes were in qualitative agreement with the modeling results, both models predicted negative horizontal stresses at low pore pressures for one coal type, which was not supported by experimental results. The sorption-induced strain was also found to be significantly higher in the low pore pressure range, clearly suggesting a direct relationship between the sorption-induced strain and permeability. Moreover, the increase in permeability was different for the three coal types tested, with the largest increase for the core taken from maximum depth. Finally, a gradual increase in the logarithm of permeability was measured with reduction in horizontal stress. These results suggest a distinct advantage for deeper coals, which have generated limited interest to date, primarily due to the low initial permeability. Extending the deformation of a cylindrical rock sample loaded axially, a hypothesis was developed where coal undergoes maximum deformation at the middle of its length. Using this hypothesis, permeability variation with decreasing pore pressure was estimated and the established trend was used to modify one of the existing models. The agreement between laboratory results and the modified model showed definite promise for improving permeability projection capability.




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