The Role of Immiscible Fingering on the Mechanism of Secondary and Tertiary Polymer Flooding of Viscous Oil

Alan Beteta, Kenneth Stuart Sorbie, Katherine McIver, G. Johnson, R. Gasimov, W. van Zeil

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Abstract

Immiscible viscous fingering in porous media occurs when a low viscosity fluid displaces a significantly more viscous, immiscible resident fluid; for example, the displacement of a higher viscosity oil with water (where μo >  > μw). Classically, this is a significant issue during oil recovery processes, where water is injected into the reservoir to provide pressure support and to drive the oil production. In moderate/heavy oil, this leads to the formation of strong water fingers, bypassed oil and high/early water production. Polymer flooding, where the injected water is viscosified through addition of high molecular weight polymers, has often been applied to reduce the viscosity contrast between the two immiscible fluids. In recent years, there has been significant development in the understanding of both the mechanism by which polymer flooding improves viscous oil recovery, as well as in the methodologies available to directly simulate such processes. One key advance in modelling the correct mechanism of polymer oil recovery in viscous oils has been the development of a method to accurately model the “simple” two-phase immiscible fingering (Sorbie in Transp Porous Media 135:331–359, 2020). This was achieved by first choosing the correct fractional flow and then deriving the maximum mobility relative permeability functions from this. It has been proposed that central to the polymer oil recovery is a fingering/viscous crossflow mechanism, and a summary of this is given in this paper. This work seeks to validate the proposed immiscible fingering/viscous crossflow mechanism experimentally for a moderately viscous oil (μo = 84 mPa.s at 31 °C; μw = 0.81 mPa.s; thus, (μo/μw) ~ 104) by performing a series of carefully monitored core floods. The results from these experiments are simulated directly to establish the potential of our modified simulation approach to capture the process (Sorbie, et al., 2020). Both secondary and tertiary polymer flooding experiments are presented and compared with the waterflood baselines, which have been established for each core system. The oil production, water cut and differential pressure are then matched directly using a commercial numerical reservoir simulator, but using our new “fractional flow” derived relative permeabilities. The use of polymer flooding, even when applied at a high water cut (80% after 0.5 PV of water injection), showed a significant impact on recovery; bringing the recovery significantly forward in time for both tertiary and secondary polymer injection modes—a further 13–16% OOIP. Each flood was then directly matched in the simulator with excellent agreement in all experimental cases. The simulations allowed a quantitative visualisation of the immiscible finger propagation from both water injection and the banking of connate water during polymer flooding. Evidence of a strong oil bank forming in front of the tertiary polymer slug was also observed, in line with the proposed viscous crossflow mechanism. This work provides validation of both polymer flooding’s viscous crossflow mechanism and the direct simulation methodology proposed by Sorbie et al. (Transp Porous Media 135:331–359, 2020). The experimental results show the significant potential for both secondary and tertiary polymer flooding in moderate/heavy oil reservoirs.
Original languageEnglish
JournalTransport in Porous Media
Early online date5 Apr 2022
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Apr 2022

Keywords

  • Viscous fingering
  • Immiscible displacement
  • Two-phase flow
  • Viscosity ratio
  • Viscous crossflow

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