Primary porosity that is lost during burial through cementation by carbonate, evaporite, and some clay minerals can be regenerated during the stage of secondary porosity development that is typical of most basins. However, primary porosity that is lost through compaction is forever lost and cannot be regenerated. Thus, it is desirable to be able to predict the amount of porosity loss expected in sandstones buried to given depths.
During progressive burial, terrigenous sandstones compact by (1) packing readjustments without changes in grain shape, (2) ductile deformation of clayey and micaceous grains, chiefly rip-up-clasts, fecal pellets, and fragments of shale, mudstone, slate, and schist, (3) bending of flexible micas, (4) pressure solution, and (5) fracturing of feldspar, quartz, and chert grains. Process 1 generally results in a 7-10% porosity loss and is independent of sandstone composition; processes 2, 3, and 4 are strongly dependent on framework composition and each by itself is responsible for producing tight sandstones; and process 5 is generally not important. Process 3 was modeled by Rittenhouse, who showed that sandstones with 35% ductile grains can compact to produce tight sandstones.
Pressure solution becomes important at depths greater than 8,000 ft (2,400 m). Pressure solution at quartz grain contacts is enhanced where thick illite or chlorite clay coats develop and is most common in quartz-rich sandstones that lack much quartz cement. Quartz dissolved from grains generally exits the formation instead of being precipitated as cement. Stylolites develop at mica-rich and clay-rich laminae and develop conspicuous vertical permeability barriers. Wholesale dissolution of quartz grains leaves a residue of clay, micas, organic matter, and feldspar.