Multi-phase flow

BGS undertakes applied research and development on multi-phase flow in low- and ultra-low-permeability systems, coupling physical, chemical and biological processes to changes in mass transport and rock deformation. Our primary focus is on the containment of wastes in underground repositories, the utilisation of underground space for storage and the sealing of hydrocarbon caprocks for CO2 sequestration. Staff experience includes rock and soil mechanics, petroleum engineering, hydrogeology, environmental geology, hydrochemistry, applied mineralogy, geomicrobiology and numerical modelling.

BGS undertakes both field-scale and laboratory based experiments, often long-term in nature (months to many years in duration), in order to produce representative and defensible experimental data and to understand the evolution of parameters in changing geological environments.

Data from these studies are used in the development of robust process models that describe low-permeability geological systems over extended timescales.


Apparatus and experimental systems are customised to meet the specific requirements of a project. Experiments are performed under simulated down-hole stress, pore pressure and chemical conditions using triaxial, isotropic, shear or constant-volume cells. Apparatus is assembled and used in a constant-temperature chamber designed to yield precise thermal control. Experiments are monitored remotely and test parameters recorded using state-of-the-art instrumentation and data acquisition. With careful attention to experimental design, choice of instrumentation, calibration and regulation of testing conditions, BGS is able to quantify key parameters including:

  • saturation and consolidation parameters
  • intrinsic (absolute) permeability
  • gas entry and breakthrough pressures
  • gas permeability (effective and relative)
  • gas shut-in (capillary threshold) pressure
  • hydraulic and gas anisotropy ratios
  • fracture transmissivity
  • coupled flow parameters (e.g. osmotic permeability)
  • drained and undrained compressibilities
  • rheological properties

Rock samples are often subject to complex stress paths simulating realistic engineering or environmental conditions. As such, experimental methodologies are tailored to the needs of the specific stakeholder and where appropriate are performed over many months or even years to yield information on the temporal evolution of parameters and the stability of geological systems.


Our research outputs are mainly used in the development and calibration of numerical process models aimed at performance assessment and safety analyses. Our customers are British, European, and International Agencies, regulatory bodies and private-sector companies working in:

  • radioactive waste disposal
  • CO2 sequestration
  • disposal of domestic and special waste

Examples of experimental studies include:

  • large-scale gas injection test (Lasgit) in an underground lab, Sweden
  • multi-phase flow and hydromechanical behaviour of engineered barriers
  • evaluation of seal characteristics for CO2 sequestration scenarios
  • evolution of fracture systems in hard and soft rocks, linking transmissivity to changes in shear rate, stress and normal load
  • gas and water flow in caprocks, fault gouge and candidate host rocks for radioactive waste disposal
  • coupled deformation properties of rocks e.g. evolution of the damaged zone around tunnel openings; application of critical stress theory to fractured rocks; rheological properties of mudrocks
  • gas flow in landfill liner clays

Recent Publications (2000+)

A wide range of industry and peer-reviewed publications are available, some of what are listed below:

Cuss, R J, Harrington, J F and Noy, D J. 2010. Large scale gas injection test (Lasgit) performed at the Äspö Hard Rock Laboratory. Summary report 2008 Report TR-10-38. (Svensk Kärbränslehantering AB (SKB), Stockholm, Sweden.)

Harrington, J F, Noy, D J, Horseman, S T, Birchall, J D and Chadwick, R A. 2009. Laboratory study of gas and water flow in the Nordland Shale, Sleipner, North Sea. p 521—543 in Carbon dioxide sequestration in geological media—State of the science: AAPG Studies in Geology 59 (Grobe, M, Pashin, J C and Dodge, R L editors).

Cuss, R J, Milodowski, A E, Harrington, J F and Noy, D J. 2009. Fracture transmissivity test of an idealised fracture in Opalinus Clay. British Geological Survey Commissioned Report, CR/09/163. 74pp.

Horseman, S T, Harrington, J F and Noy, D J. 2007. Swelling and osmotic flow in a potential host rock. Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, 32, 408—420.

Harrington, J F and Birchall, J D. 2007. Sensitivity of total stress to changes in externally applied water pressure in KBS-3 buffer bentonite. SKB Silver Series Technical Report TR-06-38. (Svensk Kärbränslehantering AB (SKB), Stockholm, Sweden.)

Horseman, S T, Cuss, R J , Reeves, H J, and Noy, D J. 2005. Potential for self-healing of fractures in plastic clays and argillaceous rocks under repository conditions. Draft report NEA-CC-3 p351. (BGS, Nottingham, UK.)

Horseman, S T, Harrington, J F, Birchall, J D, Noy, D J and Cuss, R J. 2005. Consolidation and rebound properties of Opalinus clay: A long-term, fully-drained test. Commissioned Report CR/05/128 (Commercial - In Confidence). (Environmental Protection Programme, British Geological Survey, Nottingham, UK.)

Harrington, J F, Birchall, J D and Horseman, S T. 2004. Large-scale gas injection test (Lasgit) at the Äspö Hard Rock Laboratory in Sweden. Earthwise publication 21.

Horseman, S T, Harrington, J F and Sellin, P. 2004. Water and gas flow in Mx80 bentonite buffer clay. In: Symposium on the Scientific Basis for Nuclear Waste Management XXVII (Kalmar), Materials Research Society, Vol. 807. 715-720.

Harrington, J F and Horseman, S T. 2003. Gas migration in KBS-3 buffer bentonite: Sensitivity of test parameters to experimental boundary conditions. Report TR-03-02. (Svensk Kärbränslehantering AB (SKB), Stockholm, Sweden.)

Horseman, S T, Harrington, J F and Noy, D J. 2002. Laboratory experiments on gas migration in Opalinus Clay samples from the Benken Borehole, Switzerland. Nagra Internal Report NIB 02-31. (Nationalen Genossenschaft für die Lagerung radioaktiver Abfälle, Wettingen, Switzerland.)

Harrington, J F and Horseman, S T. 2001. Summary report: Two-phase permeability measurements on a Neogene sediment from the Gulf of Mexico. Technical Report CR/01/52. (British Geological Survey, Nottingham, UK.)

Donohew, A T, Horseman, S T and Harrington, J F. (2000). Chapter 18: Gas entry into unconfined clay pastes between the liquid and plastic limits. In: Environmental Mineralogy 369—394. (Mineralogical Society Series No. 9, London, UK.)

Harrington, J F and Horseman, S T. 2000. Stress-sensitivity of the hydraulic properties of a clay-bearing fault gouge from the Tsukiyoshi Fault, Tono Mine, Central Japan. Technical Report TJ7400 2000-016. (Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute (JNC)

Horseman, S T, Thomas, H R, Harrington, J F, Fergusson, W, Noy, D J, Carter, J B, Tomlinson, M J, and Grainger, R E. 2000. Summary report: Gas migration in compacted clay liners. Technical Report RR/00/03. (British Geological Survey, Nottingham, UK.)

Rodwell, W R (editor). 2000. Research into Gas Generation and Migration in Radioactive Waste Repository Systems (PROGRESS Project). (Nuclear Science and Technology EUR 19133 EN, European Commission, Luxembourg.)