How EOR Can be Transformed by Nanotechnology
- Alistair Fletcher (Parr Systems Pty Ltd) | John Davis (Bristol U.)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- SPE Improved Oil Recovery Symposium, 24-28 April, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
- Publication Date
- Document Type
- Conference Paper
- 2010. Society of Petroleum Engineers
- 5.7.2 Recovery Factors, 4.1.5 Processing Equipment, 5.2 Reservoir Fluid Dynamics, 4.1.2 Separation and Treating, 5.3.1 Flow in Porous Media, 4.3.1 Hydrates, 3.3.6 Integrated Modeling, 5.1.1 Exploration, Development, Structural Geology, 1.10.1 Drill string components and drilling tools (tubulars, jars, subs, stabilisers, reamers, etc), 5.1.5 Geologic Modeling, 5.4.1 Waterflooding, 5.4.7 Chemical Flooding Methods (e.g., Polymer, Solvent, Nitrogen, Immiscible CO2, Surfactant, Vapex), 5.3.2 Multiphase Flow, 5.5 Reservoir Simulation, 1.6.9 Coring, Fishing, 3 Production and Well Operations, 5.4.6 Thermal Methods, 5.5.2 Core Analysis, 1.2.2 Geomechanics, 2.5.2 Fracturing Materials (Fluids, Proppant), 4.3.4 Scale, 4.3.3 Aspaltenes, 1.8 Formation Damage, 5.2.1 Phase Behavior and PVT Measurements
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Nanotechnology has the potential to transform EOR mechanisms and processes. At present there are two major nanotechnology paradigms derived from mechanical engineering and the biological sciences perspectives. However, a new focus within nanotechnology is emerging which could be called geomimetics. We can define geomimetics as employing the principles of geosystems to create and develop new and novel processes and materials. In a wider sense this involves copying the principles of geosystems into technology to compliment the natural environment.
This geomimetic perspective of nanotechnology incorporates the long and distinguished history of colloid and surface science that has underpinned oil recovery and EOR. We give a concise definition of nanotechnology and demonstrate how it is applicable to EOR.
Through consideration of complexity and systems thinking, we develop a process based method of representing complicated phenomena to help identify the critical processes which control EOR. We construct a hierarchy from fundamental surface forces leading up to processes such as coalescence, phase swelling and film drainage. This hierarchy constitutes a mapping from fundamental molecular forces onto petroleum engineering concepts. In general this hierarchy is spatially-temporally ordered, although particular attention to the overall context and fluid / rock history is needed when mapping wetting and spreading phenomena. We identify critical processes and identify performance measurement criteria to monitor these processes.
We present a conceptual study and demonstrate how nanoscale processes can impact flow behaviour. We introduce the concept of Q analysis and highlight the importance of metaphorical discourse. Processes at the nanometre - micrometre scale including wettability, coalescence, Marangoni phenomena, mass transfer effects and transient phenomena are related to EOR. We argue it is at this scale, and with these phenomena, that an understanding of oil phase distribution, oil drop mobilisation, oil bank formation and oil bank migration is to be achieved for EOR processes.
We outline the potential of nanotechnology to transform the design and execution of chemical EOR. Through nanotechnology, we make explicit the connection between the disciplined study of fundamental molecular forces and the practical application of petroleum engineering.
In many oil producing regions of the world we have reached the stage where the total rate of production is nearing the decline phase [Hite et. al., 2005]. The older and larger fields face abandonment with 50%+ of the original oil in place (OOIP) un-recovered. This situation provides a major challenge: how to extract more oil economically and delay abandonment. Chemical enhanced oil recovery (EOR) has been a tantalising possibility for decades, but sustained low oil prices for much of the 1980's and 1990's made the technology too expensive and risky as a commercial proposition [Thomas, 2005].
The most common method for secondary oil recovery throughout the world is water flooding implemented early during the primary production phase [Thomas, 2005]. In water flooding, water is forced down injection wells in order to a) maintain reservoir pressure above the bubble point, and b) sweep the oil towards the producing wells. The oil is swept slowly (30 cm/day) through microscopic (1-100µm) porous media and channels that constitute the reservoir. Many areas are missed at the macroscopic scale (1-10m) due to poor sweep efficiency, and much oil is retained at the microscopic scale due to poor displacement efficiency.
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