A Crucial Role of the Applied Capillary Pressure in Drainage Displacement

Arab, D., Kantzas, A., Torsaeter, O., Akarri, S. and Bryant, S.L.

DOI: 10.2118/200624-PA
SPE Journal, 26(04), August 2021.


Waterflooding has been applied either along with primary production to maintain reservoir pressure or later to displace the oil in conventional and heavy-oil reservoirs. Although it is generally accepted that waterflooding of light oil reservoirs in oil-wet systems delivers the least oil compared to either water-wet or intermediate-wet systems, there is a lack of systematic research to study waterflooding of heavy oils in oil-wet reservoirs. This research gives some new insights on the effect of injection velocity and oil viscosity on waterflooding of oil-wet reservoirs.

Seven different oils with a broad range of viscosity ranging from 1 to 15 000 mPa·s at 25°C were used in 18 coreflooding experiments in which injection velocity was varied from 0.7 to 24.3 ft/D (2.5×10−6 to 86.0×10−6 m/s). Oil-wet sand (with contact angle of 159.3 ± 3.1°) was used in all the flooding experiments. Breakthrough time was precisely determined using an in-line densitometer installed downstream of the core. Oil-wet microfluidics (164.4 ± 9.7°) were used to study drainage displacement at the pore scale.

Our observations suggest the crucial role of the wetting phase (oil) viscosity and the injection velocity in providing the driving force (capillary pressure) required to drain oil-wet pores. Capillarity-driven drainage can significantly increase oil recovery compared to injecting water at smaller pressure gradients. Increasing viscosity of the oil being displaced (keeping velocity the same) increases pressure gradient across the core. This increase in pressure gradient can be translated to the increase in the applied capillary pressure, especially where the oil phase is nearly stationary, such as regions of bypassed oil. When the applied capillary pressure exceeds a threshold, drainage displacement of oil by the nonwetting phase is facilitated. The driving force to push nonwetting phase (water) into the oil-wet pores can also be provided through increasing injection velocity (keeping oil viscosity the same).

In this paper, it is demonstrated that in an oil-wet system, increasing velocity until applied capillary pressure exceeds a threshold improves forced drainage to the extent that it increases oil recovery even when viscous fingering strongly influences the displacement. This is consistent with the classical literature on carbonates (deZabala and Kamath 1995). However, the current work extends the classical learnings to a much wider operational envelope on oil-wet sandstones. Across this wider range, the threshold at which applied capillary pressure makes a significant contribution to oil recovery exhibits a systematic variation with oil viscosity. However, the applied capillary pressure; that is, the pressure drop observed during an experiment, does not vary systematically with conventional static parameters or groups and thus cannot be accurately estimated a priori. For this reason, the scaling group presented here incorporates a dynamic capillary pressure and correlates residual oil saturation more effectively than previously proposed static scaling groups.

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