The permeability evolution law of saturated rock under cyclic loading–unloading after shear yield is an important basis for revealing the water resistance performance and water inrush risk of overlying rock under multiple mining conditions. In this paper, the influence of the confining pressure, the cyclic loading–unloading times (CLT), and the volumetric strain on the post-peak permeability of saturated sandstone was studied by carrying out a post-peak permeability experiment. Based on SEM images and an improved simulated annealing algorithm, the 3D internal structure characteristics of sandstone samples before and after the experiment were reconstructed. The influences of the confining pressure on pore diameter, effective porosity, connectivity, seepage path length, and tortuosity of the sandstone before and after the experiment are discussed. Research results indicated that (1) In the post-peak cyclic loading–unloading stage, the volumetric strain is negatively correlated with permeability. At the unloading and initial loading stage, the volumetric strain showed a gradually decreasing trend as the specimen was slowly compressed. However, at the middle and final loading stages, the volumetric strain curve shifted to the left and showed a decreasing trend, resulting in an obvious increase in permeability. (2) The influence of CLT on k
is closely related to the confining pressure level. When the confining pressure changed from 4 MPa to 12 MPa, the volumetric strain–average stress hysteretic curve shifted to the left in turn and the corresponding permeability gradually increased. When the confining pressure increased to 16 MPa and 20 MPa, the volumetric strain–average stress hysteretic curve shifted to the right in turn and the corresponding permeability showed a decreasing trend. No matter what the value of CLT, the magnitude of sandstone permeability gradually decreased and the decreasing trend became flat as the confining pressure increased, especially for σ3
= 16 MPa and 20 MPa. (3) No matter what value of the confining pressure, the hysteresis area of the first cycle was larger than that of last three cycles, indicating that the plastic deformation generated in the first cycle was larger than that generated in the last three cycles and the recovery rate of the permeability increased with an increase of CLT. (4) As the confining pressure gradually increased, the pore diameter, effective porosity, and connectivity all approximately showed a linear decrease due to more easily compacted pores and cracks under high confining pressure, lower connectivity, and permeability, while the length and tortuosity of the seepage path increased nonlinearly, roughly due to a more significant shear failure phenomenon where the seepage path became more tortuous, that is, the greater the tortuosity, the longer the seepage path. The research results can provide an important theoretical basis for water resistance performance and water inrush risk assessment of overlying aquifer under the influence of mining stress.
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