A Systematic Laboratory Approach to Low-Cost, High-Performance Chemical Flooding
- Adam Flaaten (University of Texas at Austin) | Quoc P. Nguyen (University of Texas at Austin) | Gary A. Pope (University of Texas at Austin) | Jieyuan Zhang (University of Texas at Austin)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- SPE Reservoir Evaluation & Engineering
- Publication Date
- October 2009
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 713 - 723
- 2009. Society of Petroleum Engineers
- 3 in the last 30 days
- 2,423 since 2007
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We present a systematic study of laboratory tests of alternative chemical formulations for a chemical flood design and application. Aqueous and microemulsion phase behavior tests have previously been shown to be a rapid, inexpensive, and highly effective means to select the best chemicals and minimize the need for relatively expensive coreflood tests. Microemulsion phase behavior testing was therefore conducted using various combinations of surfactants, cosolvents, and alkalis with a particular crude oil and in reservoir conditions of interest. Branched alcohol propoxy sulfates and internal olefin sulfonates showed high performance in these tests, even when mixed with both conventional and novel alkali agents. Systematic screening methods helped tailor and fine tune chemical mixtures to perform well under the given design constraints. The best chemical formulations were validated in coreflood experiments, and compared in terms of both oil recovery and surfactant retention in cores. Each of the four best formulations tested in corefloods gave nearly 100% oil recovery and very low surfactant adsorption. The two formulations with conventional and novel alkali agents gave almost zero surfactant retention. In standard practice, soft water must be used with alkali, but we show how alkali-surfactant-polymer (ASP) flooding can be used in this case even with very hard saline brine.
Many mature reservoirs under waterflood have low economic production rates despite having as much as 50 to 75% of the original oil still in place. These reservoirs are viable candidates for chemical enhanced oil recovery (EOR) that uses both surfactant to reduce oil/water interfacial tension (IFT) and polymer to improve sweep efficiency. However, designing these aqueous chemical mixtures is complex and must be tailored to the reservoir rock and fluid (i.e., crude oil and formation brine) properties of the application. The early success of a systematic laboratory approach to low-cost, high performance chemical flooding depends on the efficiency of designing a formula for coreflood injection in accordance with sound evaluation criteria. A general, a three-stage procedure has been developed previously to screen hundreds of potential chemicals (i.e., surfactant, cosurfactant, cosolvent, alkali, polymer, and electrolytes), and arrive at a mixture having good recovery of residual oil in cores (Jackson 2006; Levitt 2006; Levitt et al. 2006). Additionally, furthering laboratory and field-testing in this area contributes to an expanding research database to help broaden reservoir types that can become candidates for routine chemical EOR application.
This paper describes a systematic laboratory approach to low cost, high performance chemical flooding, and explores novel approaches to ASP flooding in reservoirs containing very hard saline brines. The design strategy first uses microemulsion phase behavior experiments to quickly select and optimize concentrations of injected chemicals. Assessment of formula optimization strategies are carried out through varying surfactant-to-cosurfactant ratio, reducing cosolvent concentration, reducing total surfactant concentration, selecting a suitable alkali, and using formation brine in the injection mixture. Formulations performing well in phase behavior are validated in coreflood experiments that adhere to necessary design criteria such as pressure and salinity gradients, surfactant adsorption, and capillary effects.
We illustrate the application of our design approach in prepared Berea sandstone cores previously waterflooded with very hard saline brine, and show how ASP flooding can use some of the same brine in the chemical formulation. Conventional ASP flooding requires soft water that may not always be available, and softening hard brines can be very costly or infeasible in many cases depending on the location and other factors. These new results demonstrate high tolerance to both salinity and hardness of the high performance surfactants, and how novel alkalis--in particular sodium metaborate--can provide similar benefits in such harsh environments as sodium carbonate has shown in environments without divalent cations. This experimental success begins to vastly increase the range of conditions for economical EOR using chemicals.
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