We present an interpretational framework for the analysis of a diverse set of geological structures that breach sealing sequences and allow fluids to flow vertically or subvertically across the seal. In so doing, they act as seal bypass systems (SBS). We define SBS as seismically resolvable geological features embedded within sealing sequences that promote cross-stratal fluid migration and allow fluids to bypass the pore network. If such bypass systems exist within a given seal sequence, then predictions of sealing capacity based exclusively on the flow properties (capillary entry pressure and hydraulic conductivity) of the bulk rock can potentially be negated by the capacity of the bypass system to breach the grain and pore network. We present a range of examples of SBS affecting contrasting types of sealing sequences using three-dimensional (3-D) seismic data. These examples show direct evidence of highly focused vertical or subvertical fluid flow from subsurface reservoirs up through the seal sequence, with leakage internally at higher levels or to the surface as seeps.
We classify SBS into three main groups based on seismic interpretational criteria: (1) fault related, (2) intrusion related, and (3) pipe related. We show how each group exhibits different modes of behavior with different scaling relationships between flux and dimensions and different short- and long-term impacts on seal behavior.