Permeability is part of the proportionality constant in Darcy's law which relates discharge (flow rate) and fluid physical properties (e.g. viscosity), to a pressure gradient applied to the porous media. The proportionality constant specifically for the flow of water through a porous media is the hydraulic conductivity; permeability is a portion of this, and is a property of the porous media only, not the fluid. In naturally occurring materials, it ranges over many orders of magnitude (see table below for an example of this range).
For a rock to be considered as an exploitable hydrocarbon reservoir without stimulation, its permeability must be greater than approximately 100 mD (depending on the nature of the hydrocarbon - gas reservoirs with lower permeabilities are still exploitable because of the lower viscosity of gas with respect to oil). Rocks with permeabilities significantly lower than 100 mD can form efficient seals (see petroleum geology). Unconsolidated sands may have permeabilities of over 5000 mD.
To model permeability in anisotropic media, a permeability tensor is needed. Pressure can be applied in three directions, and for each direction, permeability can be measured (via Darcy's law in 3D) in three directions, thus leading to a 3 by 3 tensor. The tensor is realized using a 3 by 3 matrix being both symmetric and positive definite (SPD matrix):
The permeability tensor is always diagonalizable (being both symmetric and positive definite). The eigenvectors will yield the principal directions of flow, meaning the directions where flow is parallel to the pressure drop, and the eigenvalues representing the principal permeabilities.
|Unconsolidated Sand & Gravel||Well Sorted Gravel||Well Sorted Sand or Sand & Gravel||Very Fine Sand, Silt, Loess, Loam|
|Unconsolidated Clay & Organic||Peat||Layered Clay||Fat / Unweathered Clay|
|Consolidated Rocks||Highly Fractured Rocks||Oil Reservoir Rocks||Fresh Sandstone||Fresh Limestone, Dolomite||Fresh Granite|