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Effective and Relative Permeability
By DrillingFormulas.Com | February 28, 2016 - 2:40 pm | Petroleum Engineering

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When there is only one type of fluid flowing through porous media, the
permeability for this case is called “absolute permeability.” However, when there
is more than one type of fluids present in a rock, a permeability of each fluid to
flow is decreased because another fluid will be moving in the rock as well. A new
term of permeability called “effective permeability” is a permeability of a rock to a
particular fluid when more than one type of fluid is in a rock.
Reservoir consists of three fluids (gas, oil, and water) so these are commonly
used abbreviations for effective permeability for each fluid.

kg = effective permeability to gas

ko = effective permeability to oil
kw = effective permeability to water
Normally, it is common to state effective permeability as a function of a rock’s
absolute permeability. Relative permeability is defined as a ration of effective
permeability to an absolute permeability of rock. The relative permeability is
widely used in reservoir engineering. These functions below are the relative
permeability of gas, oil, and water.

Relative permeability to gas – krg = kg÷k

Relative permeability to oil – kro = ko÷k
Relative permeability to water – krw = kw÷k

k = absolute permeability
Relative permeability is normally plotted as a function of water saturation in a
rock (Figure 1). Figure 1 demonstrates a plot of oil-water relative permeability
Figure 1 – Relative Permeability Plot
As water saturation (Sw) decreases, relative permeability of oil (Kro) decreases
and relative permeability of water increases (Krw). If water saturation is below
connate water saturation (Swc), only oil will flow, but water will not flow (Figure
Figure 2 – Oil flow only when Sw < Swc
When water saturation (Sw) in a rock is equal to connate water saturation (Swc),
water starts to flow (Figure 3).
Figure 3 – Water Starts to Flow
Oil flow continues to decrease and water flow continues to decrease because the
water saturation goes up. If water saturation (Sw) is between connate water
saturation (Swc) and 1 minus Sor (irreducible oil raturation), both oil and water
flow (Figure 4).
Figure 4 – Both oil and water flow
Once water saturation in a rock increases to 1 minus Sor (irreducible oil
saturation), oil will not flow, but only water will flow. Beyond this point oil will not
move at all but water will continue to increase as water saturation (Sw) in a rock
increases (Figure 5).
Figure 5 – Oil will not flow
Applications of Relative Permeability
Relative permeability of rock is used to predict the flow of each fluid phase,
displacement efficiency and expected recoverable reserves.

Abhijit Y. Dandekar, 2013. Petroleum Reservoir Rock and Fluid Properties,
Second Edition. 2 Edition. CRC Press.
L.P. Dake, 1983. Fundamentals of Reservoir Engineering, Volume 8
(Developments in Petroleum Science). New impression Edition. Elsevier
Tarek Ahmed PhD PE, 2011. Advanced Reservoir Management and
Engineering, Second Edition. 2 Edition. Gulf Professional Publishing.