- doi: 10.1126/science.aac8747
Abstract — Deep geological storage sites for nuclear waste are commonly located in rock salt to ensure hydrological isolation from groundwater. The low permeability of static rock salt is due to a percolation threshold. However, deformation may be able to overcome this threshold and allow fluid flow. We confirm the percolation threshold in static experiments on synthetic salt samples with x-ray microtomography. We then analyze wells penetrating salt deposits in the Gulf of Mexico. The observed hydrocarbon distributions in rock salt require that percolation occurred at porosities considerably below the static threshold due to deformation-assisted percolation. Therefore, the design of nuclear waste repositories in salt should guard against deformation-driven fluid percolation. In general, static percolation thresholds may not always limit fluid flow in deforming environments.