An analysis of three-phase pore occupancies and relative permeabilities in porous media with variable wettability

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In three-phase flow, the macroscopic constitutive relations of capillary pressure and relative permeability as functions of saturation depend in a complex manner on the underlying pore occupancies. These three-phase pore occupancies depend in turn on the interfacial tensions, the pore sizes and the degree of wettability of the pores, as characterised by the cosines of the oil-water contact angles. In this work, a quasi-probabilistic approach is developed to determine three-phase pore occupancies in media where the degree of wettability varies from pore to pore. Given a set of fluid and rock properties, a simple but novel graphical representation is given of the sizes and oilwater contact angles underlying three-phase occupancies for every allowed combination of capillary pressures. The actual phase occupancies are then computed using the contact angle probability density function. Since a completely accessible porous medium is studied, saturations, capillary pressures, and relative permeabilities are uniquely related to the pore occupancies. In empirical models of three-phase relative permeability it is of central importance whether a phase relative permeability depends only on its own saturation and how this relates to the corresponding two-phase relative permeability (if at all). The new graphical representation of pore sizes and wettabilities clearly distinguishes all three-phase pore occupancies with respect to these saturation-dependencies. Different types of saturation-dependencies may occur, which are shown to appear in ternary saturation diagrams of iso-relative permeability curves as well, thus guiding empirical approaches. However, for many saturation combinations three-phase and two-phase relative permeabilities can not be linked. In view of the latter, the present model has been used to demonstrate an approach for three-phase flow modelling on the basis of the underlying pore-scale processes, in which three-phase relative permeabilities are computed only along the actual flow paths. This process-based approach is used to predict an efficient strategy for oil recovery by simultaneous water-alternating-gas (SWAG) injection.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-185
Number of pages27
JournalTransport in Porous Media
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2002


  • Pore Occupancy
  • Process-based model
  • Relative permeability
  • Saturation-dependency
  • Three-phase flow
  • Water-alternating-gas injection (WAG)
  • Wettability


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