Analysis of Non-Equilibrium Foamy Oil Flow in Cyclic Solvent Injection Processes

Chen, T., Leung, J.Y., Bryan, J.L., and Kantzas, A.

DOI: 10.1016/j.petrol.2020.107857
Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering, 195, December 2020.


Non-equilibrium phase behavior (i.e., solvent dissolution/exsolution) and solvent transport are key recovery mechanisms in many non-thermal post-CHOPS (Cold Heavy Oil Production with Sand) processes, such as cyclic solvent injection (CSI), in western Canada and Venezuela. Foamy oil refers to the non-equilibrium phenomenon where gas bubbles are dispersed in the oil phase during exsolution, resulting in a decrease in oil viscosity. This is a well-recognized behavior in heavy oil primary production (CHOPS) and has implications in recovery during CSI. In this paper, a mechanistic simulation model is constructed based on a set of pressure depletion experiments, and the calibrated model is used to analyze the effects of solvent compositions and operating schedules on recovery efficiency.

First, a series of pressure depletion tests are conducted using both bulk fluid systems and porous media to examine the non-equilibrium release of solvent (CO2, CH4 and C3H8) from saturated live oil during the production cycles of CSI. The non-equilibrium live oil viscosity profile is inferred from calibrated NMR measurements. Different combinations of solvent mixtures and pressure depletion rates are tested to examine their impacts of gas exsolution. Next, a detailed mechanistic simulation model is constructed and calibrated against a set of experimental measurements. A fluid model is defined based on equilibrium saturation pressures and gas-oil ratios corresponding to different combinations of solvent and dead oil. A viscosity model is formulated using measurements at different temperatures and solvent-oil mixtures. Reaction kinetics is implemented to represent the non-equilibrium exsolution of gas from solution gas to bubble gas and free gas in foamy oil flow.

The simulation model shows the response of viscosity and oil production as a function of pressure for a porous medium saturated with live oil in a single depletion cycle. The model predicts a delay in free gas formation in the sand pack, as observed in the experimental program. Propane-based and carbon dioxide-based solvent mixtures exhibit significant foamy oil characteristics, enabling the oil viscosity to remain close to its live oil value even with pressures that are much lower than saturation pressure. The rates of gas exsolution and oil production are strongly dependent on the pressure depletion schedule, as well as the solvent compositions and properties.

Although a number of models were developed in the past to describe the dissolution of solvent and bubble formation, calibration of these models against actual observations remain challenging. The model developed in this study is calibrated and corroborated by detailed experimental observations; hence, it can be further scaled up to study recovery performance at the pilot or field scales. Many existing solvent technologies suffer from low production rates due to limited solvent/heavy oil interaction. Improving our understanding of solvent dissolution/exsolution under different pressure conditions would aid in the design of operating strategies (e.g., pressure depletion and solvent injection schemes) for enhanced solvent/oil mixing and transport.

A full version of this paper is available on ScienceDirect Online.