Numerical simulation of laboratory experiments on rocks, or digital rock physics, is an emerging field that may eventually benefit the petroleum industry. For numerical experimentation to find its way into the mainstream, it must be practical and easily repeatable — i.e., implemented on standard hardware and in real time. This condition reduces the size of a digital sample to just a few grains across. Also, small physical fragments of rock, such as cuttings, may be the only material available to produce digital images. Will the results be meaningful for a larger rock volume?

To address this question, we use a number of natural and artificial medium- to high-porosity, well-sorted sandstones. The 3D microtomography volumes are obtained from each physical sample. Then, analogous to making thin sections of drill cuttings, we select a large number of small 2D slices from a 3D scan. As a result, a single physical sample produces hundreds of 2D virtual-drill-cuttings images. Corresponding 3D pore-space realizations are generated statistically from these 2D images; fluid flow is simulated in three dimensions, and the absolute permeability is computed.

The results show that small fragments of medium– to high-porosity sandstones that are statistically subrepresentative of a larger sample will not yield the exact porosity and permeability of the sample. However, a significant number of small fragments will yield a site-specific permeability-porosity trend that can then be used to estimate the absolute permeability from independent porosity data obtained in the well or inferred from seismic techniques.

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