Impact of viscoelastic polymer flooding on residual oil saturation in sandstones
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The objective of this research was to determine whether the use of polymer compounds with elastic properties can reduce residual oil saturation in porous media below that of brine or inelastic polymerized solutions. One hypothesis is that long-chain polymer molecules experience stress and a resulting strain when they flow through pore throat constrictions. If the fluid residence time in larger pore spaces is insufficient to allow full relaxation, then strain can accumulate. Sufficient strain results in normal forces which can impinge on oil interfaces and potentially mobilize them. A second hypothesis suggests that polymerized solutions can temporarily protect flowing oil filaments from snap off, allowing them to flow longer and de-saturate further than they would otherwise. The approach taken in this thesis was to conduct a series of core floods in several different sandstones using displacement fluids with elasticity ranging from none to those with extremely high relaxation times. Accelerated flow rate was also employed to reduce residence time and maximize the accumulation of elastic strain and normal force potential. Experiments were designed to provide direct comparisons between both non-elastic and elastic floods but also multiple floods with increasing elasticity. The results were inconclusive with some experiments showing additional oil recovery that could be attributed to elastic mechanisms. Most experiments, however, showed no significant difference between elastic and non-elastic floods when experimental parameters were controlled within narrow limits. This research did refine the experimental context in which elastic effects are most likely to be observed. As such, it can serve as a precursor to additional core flooding in oil-wet systems, experiments conducted at reservoir temperature, and those where the pressure gradient of the flood is held constant and the flow rate allowed to vary. Computer aided tomography could also be employed to visualize the mobilization of oil with different displacement fluids, identify where bypassed oil occurs with unstable floods, and determine how oil is subsequently mobilized with better conformance and or elasticity.