Experimental investigation of viscous forces during surfactant flooding of fractured carbonate cores
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The objective of this research was to investigate the effects of viscous forces on the oil recovery during surfactant flooding of fractured carbonate cores, specifically, to test the effects of using surfactants that form viscous microemulsions in-situ. The hypothesis was that a viscous microemulsion flowing inside a fracture can induce transverse pressure gradients that increase fluid crossflow between the fracture and the matrix, thus, enhancing the rate of surfactant imbibition and thereby the oil recovery. Previous experimentalists assumed the small viscous forces were not important for oil recovery from naturally fractured reservoirs (NFRs) since the pressure gradients that can be established are very modest due to the presence of the highly conductive fractures. Hence, the most common approach for studying surfactants for oil recovery from NFRs is to perform static imbibition experiments that do not provide data on the very important viscous and pressure forces. This is the first experimental study of the effect of viscous forces on the performance of surfactant floods of fractured carbonate cores under dynamic conditions. The effects of viscous forces on the oil recovery during surfactant flooding of fractured carbonate cores were tested by conducting a series of ultralow interfacial tension (IFT) surfactant floods using fractured Silurian Dolomite and Texas Cream Limestone cores. The viscosity of the surfactant solution was increased by adding polymer to the surfactant solution or by changing the salinity of the aqueous surfactant solution, which affects the in-situ microemulsion viscosity. The fractured cores had an extreme permeability contrast between the fracture and the matrix (ranging from 2500 to 90,000) so as to represent typical conditions encountered in most naturally fractured reservoirs. Also, non-fractured corefloods were performed in cores of each rock type for comparison with the results from the fractured corefloods. In all the experiments, the more viscous surfactants solutions achieved the greater oil recovery from the fractured carbonate cores which contradicts conventional wisdom. A new approach for surfactant flooding of naturally fractured reservoirs is presented. The new approach consists of using a surfactant solution that achieves ultralow IFT and that forms a viscous microemulsion. A viscous microemulsion can serve as a mobility control agent analogous to mobility control with foams or polymer but with far less complexity and cost. The oil recovery from the fractured carbonate cores was greater for the surfactant floods with the higher microemulsions, thus, it is expected that using viscous microemulsion can enhance the oil recovery from naturally fractured reservoirs.