Estimating permeability based on pore dimension

This page discusses single phase permeability models that are specifically based on the pore
dimensions of the reservoir. Pore dimensions are a critical factor in determining crucial
characteristics of the reservoir; including porosity, permeability, and capillary pressure.
 1 Capillary pressure and pore size
 2 Swanson’s equation
 3 Winland’s equation and Pittman’s results
 4 Katz and Thompson’s equation
 5 Flow zone indicator
 6 Nomenclature
 7 References
 8 Noteworthy papers in OnePetro
 9 External links
 10 See also
Capillary pressure and pore size
The dimension of interconnected pores plays a major role in determining permeability. Most
methods of estimating permeability are indirect methods. A viable direct method requires both
adequate theoretical underpinnings relating pore throat dimension to permeability and
experimental determination of the critical pore dimension parameters. Many authors have made
use of the capillary pressure curve, obtained experimentally by injecting mercury into a dried
sample. As mercury pressure is increased, more mercury is forced into progressively smaller
pores in the rock, and the resident pore fluid (air) is expelled. A length r, usually referred to as
the pore throat radius, is related to the injection pressure by the Washburn equation,
σ is the interfacial tension θ is the wetting angle
The injection process can be visualized by examining the idealized capillary pressure curve of
Fig. 1. A finite pressure is required to inject mercury into a 100% water-saturated sample (right
side of Fig. 1). At the first inflection point (entry pressure), mercury occupies only a small
fraction of the pore volume containing the largest pores. Next, much of the pore space becomes
filled with mercury with a comparatively slight increase in pressure (progressing from the circle
labeled Katz and Thompson to the circle labeled Swanson in Fig. 1). Finally, large pressure
increases are required to force more mercury into the smallest pores (steep curve to left of
Swanson circle).

 Fig. 1 – Capillary pressure curve (idealized) showing measures used by different
authors for determination of characteristic pore dimension.
Many authors have linked capillary pressure curves to permeability. Purcell
derived an
expression relating k to an integral of P
over the entire saturation span, achieving a good match
with core data. The relationships established by Timur
and Granberry and Keelan,
, are
represented at low water saturation in Fig. 1. Contributions by Swanson,
and Katz
and Thompson,
symbolized by the circles in Fig. 1, are reviewed below.
Swanson’s equation
provides a method of determining air and brine permeabilities from a single point on
the capillary pressure curve. His regression relationships are based on permeability and capillary
pressure data on 203 sandstone samples from 41 formations and 116 carbonates from 33
formations. His method picks the maximum ratio of mercury saturation to pressure, (S
from the capillary pressure curve, arguing that at this point all the connected space is filled with
mercury and "this capillary pressure corresponds to pore sizes effectively interconnecting the
total major pore system and, thus, those that dominate fluid flow." From linear regression,
Swanson obtains simple equations of the form,
where the constants a and c depend on the following:
 Rock type (carbonate vs. sandstone)
 Fluid type (air or brine)
For carbonates and sandstones combined, c=2.005. Because S
is defined as the mercury
saturation as percent of bulk volume, it must be proportional to Φ(1-S
); through Eq. 1, P
be linked with a pore throat radius r apex . Thus, Swanson’s result shows that k is proportional to
, again demonstrating the dependence of k on the square of a pore throat size.
Winland’s equation and Pittman’s results
An empirical equation relating permeability, porosity, and a capillary pressure parameter is
referred to as Winland’s equation.
Based on laboratory measurements on 312 samples,
Winland’s regression equation is
 r
is the pore throat radius at 35% mercury saturation
 k is air permeability
 Φ is porosity in percent
A log(k)-Φ plot based on Eq. 4 and showing five characteristic lines for pore throat radius is
shown in Fig. 2. Note that at a given porosity, permeability increases roughly as the square of the
pore throat radius. And for a given throat size, the dependence of permeability on porosity is
slightly less than Φ
. Kolodzie
states that a pore throat size of 0.5 μm was used as a cutoff for
reserves determinations, in preference to the use of k or Φ. Hartmann and Coalson
also present
Winland’s equation in the same format as Fig. 2. They state that r
is a function of both entry
size and pore throat sorting and is a good measure of the largest connected pore throats in a rock
with intergranular porosity.

 Fig. 2 – Empirical model based on regression attributed to Winland, from Kolodzie.
Labels for four ranges of r
are taken from Martin et al.

Martin et al.
used the r
parameter, along with other petrophysical, geological, and
engineering data, to identify flow units in five carbonate reservoirs. With Eq. 4, r
can be
computed from permeability and porosity measurements on core samples. Flow units are
grouped by the size of pore throats using the designations, as shown in Fig. 2, of:
 Megaport
 Macroport
 Mesoport
 Microport
A completion analysis for the different r
size ranges in a reservoir of medium thickness and
medium gravity oil yielded the following:
 Megaport, tens of thousands of barrels of oil per day
 Macroport, thousands
 Mesoport, hundreds
 Microport, nonreservoir
After flow units are identified, well logs and sequence stratigraphy are used to identify zones
with similar properties where no core data exist. The method works well in carbonates where
flow is controlled by intergranular, intercrystalline, or interparticle pore space but not so well if
fractures or vugs are present.
sheds additional light on Winland’s equation, linking it to Swanson’s results. Pittman
used a set of 202 sandstone samples from 14 formations on which k, Φ, and mercury injection
data had been obtained. Using Eq. 2, he associated a pore size r
with the capillary pressure,
, determined by Swanson’s method and found that the mean value of r
has a mercury
saturation of 36%. That is, on a statistical basis, the points denoted by circles labeled Swanson
and Winland in Fig. 1 are practically identical, and the two methods are sampling the same
fraction of the pore space.
also established regression equations for pore aperture sizes ranging from 10% to 75%
mercury saturation. His expressions have been rearranged and displayed in Table 1 to show the
exponents of r and Φ required to predict k. (Because r was used as the dependent variable in
Pittman’s regressions, the coefficients in Table 1 differ somewhat from what would be obtained
if k were the dependent variable; however the changes would not invalidate the point of this
discussion.) Note that, with increasing mercury saturation:
 r exponent decreases
 Φ exponent increases
That is, the porosity term contributes relatively less to k than does r for mercury saturation values
<35%. In fact, Pittman noted that the porosity term was statistically insignificant for r

Table 1
Katz and Thompson’s equation
Another investigation on the influence of pore structure on flow properties comes from Katz and
and Thompson et al.
They use percolation theory to derive a deceptively simple
 k is absolute permeability (same units as )
 σ is electrical conductivity of the rock
 σ
is the conductivity of the saturant
The value of the constant, given as 1/226, is dependent on the geometry assumed for the pore
space. They substantiate Eq. 5a with experimental data on 60 sandstone and carbonate samples
with permeabilities ranging from <1 md to 5 darcies.
The parameter l
in Eq. 5a represents a dimension of a very particular subset of pores: "The
arguments suggest that permeability can be estimated by assuming that the effective pore size is
the smallest pore on the connected path of pores containing the largest pores. We call that
effective pore size l
." To obtain l
, the pressure at the inflection point on a capillary pressure
curve is converted to a diameter. The authors argue that the inflection point marks the pressure at
which a sample is first filled continuously end to end with mercury and that the large pores first
filled are those that control permeability.
The Katz and Thompson
equation and its characteristic curves are given in Fig. 3. To plot
curves on log(k)-Φ plots, we assumed the simplest relation between formation factor and
porosity (cementation exponent of 2.0), σ/σ

. Some data points from Katz and Thompson’s
experiments are posted in Fig. 3 to indicate how well their measured l
match the curves (This is
not really a test of their model because they used formation factor in their correlations, not Φ
Their result is similar to that of Swanson’s and Winland’s equations: Permeability is closely
proportional to the square of rΦ.

 Fig. 3 – Permeability equation with critical pore-size radius (R
) as a parameter,
from Katz and Thompson.
Values of r
posted next to data points are from
mercury injection tests.
To obtain compatibility with other author’s expressions, we define a critical radius r
keeping both permeability and r
in units of μm
Eq. 5b is identical in form to the Kozeny-Carman equation with tortuosity eliminated, but the
percolation concepts used to derive Eq. 5b are quite different from the geometrical arguments
used to derive the Kozeny-Carman expression. The Kozeny-Carman coefficient, which is ≈0.4, is
considerably greater than that (0.0177) in Eq. 4b. Consequently, the characteristic radius r
≈4.7 times greater than the hydraulic radius, r
. Although r
is defined as the ratio of pore volume
to pore surface area, it can be determined in a variety of ways, including the use of mercury
injection. Conceptually, then, the Kozeny-Carman equation could also be represented by an
extended horizontal line across Fig. 1; i.e., as a method that samples a broad spectrum of pore
It is interesting to compare the Katz and Thompson model (Fig. 3) with Winland’s empirical
equation (Fig. 2). The shapes of the curves are comparable; i.e., the models agree on the
approximate Φ
dependence. The pore radii given by the Winland equation are smaller than
comparable radii in the Katz and Thompson model. This is expected because the Winland
equation requires a saturation of 35%, a criterion of greater injection pressure than that of Katz
and Thompson. What is noteworthy is the general agreement between the two models regarding
the form of the log(k)-Φ relationship. They demonstrate that in the models invoking higher
powers of Φ, which we have shown in previous graphs are not well grounded physically, the
higher powers of Φ are required to compensate for lack of knowledge regarding the critical pore
dimension. It does seem, however, that the empirical data that often show a "straight-line" log(k)-
Φ relationship contain some fundamental information regarding how the critical pore dimension
relates to porosity.
Flow zone indicator
Amaefule and Altunbay
rearranged the version of the Kozeny-Carman equation with specific
surface area as ratio of pore surface to grain volume to obtain a parameter group named the flow
zone indicator (I),
where the factor 0.0314 allows k to be expressed in millidarcies. As can be seen from Eq. 5, I
has the units of pore size, in micrometers, and can be computed from core measurements of k
and Φ, even though it is defined in terms of f, τ, and Σ
, which are not easily measured. The
choice of the form used over other forms of the Kozeny-Carman equation that use alternative
definition of specific surface area seems a bit arbitrary and results in the particular combination
of porosity terms used in Eq. 6.
Amaefule and Altunbay
use I to define zones called "hydraulic flow units" on a doubly
logarithmic plot incorporating the terms in Eq. 6. For compatibility with other plots in this
chapter, a plot in log(k)-Φ coordinates is shown in Fig. 4. Each data point on a log(k)-Φ plot has
an I value that associates it with a nearby curve of constant I value. The difficult step is deciding
where the boundaries between adjacent I bands should be positioned and how to compute a value
of I from well logs in uncored wells. Options for doing so are described in Estimating
permeability from well log data.

 Fig. 4 – Zonation of permeability and porosity data based on a parameter called the
flow zone indicator (I ) in μm. Data from southeast Asia and algorithm taken from
Amaefule and Altunbay.

f = shape factor
I = flow zone indicator
k = permeability
= pore-space dimension
p = pressure
= capillary pressure
= hydraulic radius
= pore throat radius at 35% mercury saturation
R = pore throat dimension
= mercury saturation
θ = wetting angle
σ = electrical conductivity of rock
= electrical conductivity of saturant
σ = interfacial tension
= ratio of pore surface area to pore volume
= ratio of pore surface area to rock volume
= ratio of pore surface area to grain volume
Σ = specific surface area
τ = tortuosity
Φ = porosity
1. ↑ Purcell, W.R. 1949. Capillary Pressures: Their Measurement Using Mercury and the
Calculation of Permeability Therefrom. Trans., AIME 1 (2): 39-48.
2. ↑ Timur, A. 1968. An Investigation Of Permeability, Porosity, & Residual Water
Saturation Relationships For Sandstone Reservoirs. The Log Analyst IX (4). SPWLA-
3. ↑ Granberry, R.J., and Keelan, D.K. 1977. Critical Water Estimates for Gulf Coast Sands.
Trans., Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies 27: 41-43.
4. ↑

Swanson, B.F. 1981. A Simple Correlation Between Permeabilities and Mercury
Capillary Pressures. J Pet Technol 33 (12): 2498-2504. SPE-8234-PA.
5. ↑



Kolodzie Jr., S. 1980. Analysis of Pore Throat Size And Use of the
Waxman-Smits Equation To Determine OOIP in Spindle Field, Colorado. Presented at
the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, Dallas, 21-24 September. SPE
6. ↑



Katz, A.J. and Thompson, A.H. 1986. Quantitative Prediction of
Permeability in Porous Rock. Physical Review B 34 (11): 8179.
7. ↑


Pittman, E.D. 1992. Relationship of Porosity and Permeability to Various
parameters Derived From Mercury Injection—Capillary Pressure Curves for Sandstone.
American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bull. 76 (2): 191-198.
8. ↑ Hartmann, D.J. and Coalson, E.B. 1990. Evaluation of the Morrow Sandstone in
Sorrento Field, Cheyenne County, Colorado. Morrow Sandstones of Southeast Colorado
and Adjacent Areas, 91, eds. S.A. Sonnenberg et al. Rocky Mountain Association of
9. ↑

Martin, A.J., Solomon, S.T., and Hartmann, D.J. 1997. Characterization of
Petrophysical Flow Units in Five Carbonate Reservoirs. American Association of
Petroleum Geologists Bull. 81 (5): 734.
10. ↑ Thompson, A.H., Katz, A.J., and Krohn, C.E. 1987. The Microgeometry and Transport
Properties of Sedimentary Rock. Advances in Physics 36 (5): 625.
11. ↑


Amaefule, J.O., Altunbay, M., Tiab, D. et al. 1993. Enhanced Reservoir
Description: Using Core and Log Data to Identify Hydraulic (Flow) Units and Predict
Permeability in Uncored Intervals/Wells. Presented at the SPE Annual Technical
Conference and Exhibition, Houston, 3–6 October. SPE 26436.
Noteworthy papers in OnePetro
Use this section to list papers in OnePetro that a reader who wants to learn more should
definitely read
External links
Use this section to provide links to relevant material on websites other than PetroWiki and
See also
Single phase permeability
Relative permeability and capillary pressure
Corrections to core measurements of permeability
Permeability determination
PEH:Single-Phase Permeability

Estimating permeability from well log data
Many approaches to estimating permeability exist. Recognizing the importance of rock type,
various petrophysical (grain size, surface area, and pore size) models have been developed. (See
links to these in Single phase permeability). This page explores techniques for applying well logs
and other data to the problem of predicting permeability [k or log(k)] in uncored wells.
If the rock formation of interest has a fairly uniform grain composition and a common diagenetic
history, then log(k)-Φ patterns are simple, straightforward statistical prediction techniques can be
used, and reservoir zonation is not required. However, if a field encompasses several lithologies,
perhaps with varying diagenetic imprints resulting from varying mineral composition and fluid
flow histories, then the log(k)-Φ patterns are scattered, and reservoir zonation is required before
predictive techniques can be applied.
 1 Multiple linear regression
o 1.1 Predictors with one or two input variables
o 1.2 Predictors with several input variables
o 1.3 Predictors using computed parameters
 2 Database approach
 3 Fuzzy clustering techniques
 4 Artificial neural networks
 5 References
 6 Noteworthy papers in OnePetro
 7 External links
 8 See also
Multiple linear regression
A widely used statistical approach is multiple linear regression.
Linear regression techniques
are popular for establishing predictors of geological variables because the methods are effective
at predicting mean values, are fast computationally, are available in statistical software packages,
and provide a means of assessing errors.
Predictors with one or two input variables
When a straight-line relationship between log(k) and Φ exists, as it does in Figs. 1 and 2, the
computation of a predictor for log(k) by Eq. 1 is straightforward and merits little discussion.
Curvature in the log(k)-Φ relationship is treated by adopting a polynomial in Φ. Increased
accuracy is also afforded by dividing the field by area or vertically and computing regression
coefficients for each area. In one area, curvature in the statistical predictor may be rather
pronounced; in another, curvature may be absent.

Fig. 1– Permeability/porosity data from the Lower Cretaceous Hosston Sandstone from Thomson.

Fig. 2 – Permeability/porosity data from Oligocene and Miocene sandstones from Bloch.
Predictors with several input variables
The quality of the predictor can often be enhanced by adding a variable such as gamma ray
response or depth normalized to top of formation. As variables are added to Eq. 1, families of
curves are required to present graphically the effect of combinations of variables. When one or
two parameters are varied, the curves sweep out a large area on the log(k)-Φ plot. Predictive
power can be increased by adding other parameters. Predictive accuracy does not increase
indefinitely as parameters are added but instead usually reaches a limit after several (anywhere
from two to six) parameters are included in the regression (see Fig. 17 of Wendt et al.
for an
Predictors using computed parameters
Computed logs such as shale volume and differences between porosities from different logs can
be included as independent variables. In this way, petrological information can also be
incorporated into the predictive relationships. A petrological parameter (cement or gravel) is first
"predicted" from well logs using core observations as "ground truth." The predicted petrological
parameters can then be included in a relationship to estimate permeability.
As the complexity of the log(k)-Φ plot increases (i.e., as the data deviate from a linear trend),
more variables must be incorporated into the predictive model to maintain predictive accuracy,
although instability can result from having too many variables. The better the understanding is of
petrological controls on permeability, the more effective the predictor and its application will be.
Other complications with regression methods are mentioned by various authors.
. These
complications include:
 Underestimation of high-permeability zones
 Overestimation of low-permeability zones
At some point, it becomes necessary to adopt a method of zoning the reservoir.
Database approach
A database approach equivalent to an n -dimensional lookup table can also be used for predicting
permeability within a field or common geology.
In this approach, the user must first select the
logs or log-derived variables that offer sufficient discriminating power for permeability. One
must also choose a suitable bin size for each variable on the basis of its resolution. Then, a
database is constructed from the core permeability values and associated log values. Each n-
dimensional bin or volume is bounded by incremental log values and contains mean and standard
deviation values of permeability plus the number of samples. In application, permeability
estimates are extracted from a bin addressed by the log values. An interpolation scheme is used
to extract an estimate from an empty bin. Like the regression method, the database approach can
be used only when adequate core data are available to build the model, and results generally
cannot be transferred to other areas.
Fuzzy clustering techniques
Fuzzy clustering techniques provide a means of determining the number of clusters (bins in the
preceding paragraph) and their domains.
The term "fuzzy" indicates that a given input/output
pair can belong (partially) to more than one cluster. Finol and Jing
applied the technique to a
shaly sandstone reservoir in which permeability ranged from 0.05 to 2,500 md. Six clusters were
defined. In each cluster, permeability is determined by
 Φ is porosity
 Q
is the cation exchange capacity per unit pore volume
The final determination of log(k) is a weighted sum of the six log(k
), with weights determined
by the degree of membership of Φ and log(Q
) in their respective clusters. An average
correlation coefficient of 0.95 was obtained on test sets.
Implementation of Eq. 2 in uncored
wells requires that Q
be determined from a porosity log and requires an estimate of grain density
and shale fraction (V
Artificial neural networks
Artificial neural networks are a third method of establishing a predictor specific to an area of
interest. A back-propagation neural network is optimized on a training set in which the desired
output (permeability at a given depth) is furnished to the network, along with a set of inputs
chosen by the user. Rogers et al.
established a predictor for a Jurassic carbonate field using
only porosity and geographic coordinates as inputs. For each value of permeability to be
predicted, porosity values spanning the depth of the desired permeability value were provided as
inputs, rather than a single porosity value at a single depth. Permeability values predicted by the
neural network in test wells were generally closer to the core measurements than were the values
predicted by linear regression.
1. ↑

Allen, J.R. 1979. Prediction of Permeability From Logs by Multiple Regression. Trans.,
Society of Professional Well Log Analysts.
2. ↑


Wendt, W.A., Sakurai, S., and Nelson, P.H. 1986. Permeability Prediction From Well
Logs Using Multiple Regression. Reservoir Characterization, 181-222. Eds. L.W. Lake and H.B.
Carroll, Jr. New York City: Academic Press, Inc.
3. ↑ Thomson, A. 1978. Petrography and Diagenesis of the Hosston Sandstone Reservoirs at
Bassfield, Jefferson Davis County, Mississippi. Trans., Gulf Coast Association of Geological
Societies 28: 651-664.
4. ↑ Bloch, S. 1991. Empirical Prediction of Porosity and Permeability in Sandstones. American
Association of Petroleum Geologists Bull. 75 (7): 1145-1160.
5. ↑

Nicolaysen, R. and Svendsen, T. 1991. Estimating the Permeability for the Troll Field
Using Statistical Methods Querying a Fieldwide Database. Trans., Society of Professional Well
Log Analysts, paper QQ.
6. ↑


Finol, J. and Jing, X-D.D. 2002. Permeability Prediction in Shaly Formations: The Fuzzy
Modeling Approach. Geophysics 67 (3): 817-829. 10.1190/1.1484526
7. ↑ Rogers, S.J. et al. 1995. Predicting Permeability From Porosity Using Artificial Neural
Networks. American Association of Petroleum Geologists Bull. 79 (12): 1786-1797.
Noteworthy papers in OnePetro
Use this section to list papers in OnePetro that a reader who wants to learn more should
definitely read
External links
Use this section to provide links to relevant material on websites other than PetroWiki and
See also
Single phase permeability
Permeability determination
Permeability estimation with NMR logging
Permeability estimation with Stoneley waves
Lithology and rock type determination
PEH:Single-Phase Permeability