A Review of Swelling Effect on Shale Permeability: Assessments and Perspectives

Qi Gao, Jishan Liu, Yee Kwong Leong, Derek Elsworth

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


The significant effect of gas sorption induced swelling on shale permeability has been observed through laboratory measurements and explained through permeability models over the past decades. However, there are lab observations that cannot be explained by these models. This knowledge gap prompts this review. Our goal is to form perspectives on how to resolve this gap through assessing the role of swelling on shale permeability. This goal is achieved through the following three steps: (1) collection of experimental shale permeability data measured under both constant effective stress and constant confining pressure conditions; (2) collection and classification of shale permeability models under the influence of gas sorption induced swelling strains; (3) assessments of co-relations between shale permeability data and permeability models. On the basis of all assessments, we conclude that the discrepancies between model predictions and laboratory measurements depend on the relation between bulk and pore swelling strains, pore size scales, and consistencies of strain treatments in the experiments and models. Models assuming that bulk swelling strain is different from pore swelling strain can better explain lab observations than those assuming that they are the same. When the pore size transitions from the micron-scale to the nano-scale, the effect of swelling on shale permeability gradually diminishes. The inconsistencies between how swelling strains are measured in the lab and treated in the models are common in the literatures and affect the discrepancies between model predictions and lab observations. On the basis of these assessments, we form our perspectives: (1) transformation between bulk and pore swelling strains should be characterized and incorporated both for experiments and in permeability models; (2) shale multiscale pore structural characteristics should be characterized when assessing the swelling effect on shale permeability; (3) the time-dependent nature of swelling strain and permeability evolution should be incorporated into future experiments and permeability models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3488-3500
Number of pages13
JournalEnergy and Fuels
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2 Mar 2023


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