Enhanced Heavy Oil Recovery by Alkali-Suractant Flooding

Bryan, J. and Kantzas, A.

DOI: 10.2118/110738-MS
SPE110738, presented at the 2007 SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition held in Anaheim, California, U.S.A., 11-14 November 2007, highlighted JPT 60(3), March 2008.


This study presents the results of laboratory core studies investigating the recovery mechanisms of alkali-surfactant flooding in heavy oil reservoirs. Specifically, mixtures of water and alkali-surfactant systems have been injected into cores containing heavy oil (11 000 mPa×s and 15 000 mPa×s). Salinity is varied in order to generate oil-in-water vs. water-in-oil emulsion systems, and the effects of generating different emulsions are compared.

The application of this work is for the many heavy oil reservoirs in countries such as Canada and Venezuela containing viscous oil that still has some limited mobility under reservoir conditions. Alkali-surfactant (AS) flooding has considerable potential for non-thermal oil recovery after primary production.

Experiments were performed on cores with varying permeability, at different AS injection rates. All tests were performed on gas-free oil systems. The response from direct injection of AS systems is compared to AS injection after waterflooding. Pressure and oil recovery information is obtained from core floods, and these results are interpreted based on a semi-theoretical framework obtained from phase behavior and bulk liquid studies. It is demonstrated that both oil-in-water and water-in-oil emulsions can lead to the recovery of additional oil.

Alkali-surfactant flooding is already an established technique in conventional oil reservoirs, whereby enhanced oil recovery is a result of reduced trapping of oil due to the lowered oil/water interfacial tension. In addition, the injection of these chemicals may lead to the formation of emulsions, as has been documented by previous researchers. In our work, we demonstrate that in heavy oil systems, emulsion formation is a necessary requirement for the production of heavy oil. When these emulsions form, AS injection can lead to considerable improvements in the flooding response, even without the addition of polymers to stabilize the flood.

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