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A method of estimating bulk potential permeability in fractured-rock aquifers using field-derived fracture data and type curves

ABSTRACT

A method is devised for estimating the potential permeability of fracture networks from attributes of fractures observed in outcrop. The technique, which is intended as a complement to traditional approaches, is based on type curves that represent various combinations of fracture lengths, fracture orientations and proportions (i.e., intensities) of fractures that participate in flow. Numerical models are used to derive the type curves. To account for variations in fracture aperture, a permeability ratio (R) defined as the permeability of a fracture network in a domain divided by the permeability of a single fracture with identical fracture apertures, is used as a dependent variable to derive the type curves. The technique works by determining the point on the type curve that represents the fracture characteristics collected in the field. To test the performance of the technique, permeabilities that were derived from fractured-rock aquifers of eastern Massachusetts (USA) are compared to permeabilities predicted by the technique. Results indicate that permeabilities estimated from type curves are within an order of magnitude of permeabilities derived from field tests. First-order estimates of fracture-network permeability can, therefore, be easily and quickly acquired with this technique before more robust and expensive methods are utilized in the field.