Shear-enhanced permeability and poroelastic deformation in unconsolidated sands



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Heavy oil production depends on the understanding of mechanical and flow properties of unconsolidated or weakly consolidated sands under different loading paths and boundary conditions. Reconstituted bitumen-free Athabasca oil-sands samples were used to investigate the geomechanics of a steam injection process such as the Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD). Four stress paths have been studied in this work: triaxial compression, radial extension, pore pressure increase and isotropic compression. Absolute permeability, end-point relative permeability to oil & water (kro and krw), initial water saturation and residual oil saturation were measured while the samples deformed. Triaxial compression is a stress path of increasing mean stress while radial extension and pore pressure increase lead to decreasing mean stress. Pore pressure increase experiments were carried out for three initial states: equal axial and confining stresses, axial stress greater than confining stress and confining stress greater than axial stress. Pore pressure was increased under four boundary conditions: 1) constant axial and confining stress; 2) constant axial stress and zero radial strain; 3) zero axial strain and constant confining stress; and 4) zero axial and radial strain. These experiments were designed to mimic geologic conditions where vertical stress was either S1 or S3, the lateral boundary conditions were either zero strain or constant stress, and the vertical boundary conditions were either zero strain or constant stress. Triaxial compression caused a decrease in permeability as the sample compacted, followed by appreciable permeability enhancement during sample dilation. Radial extension led to sample dilation, shear failure and permeability increase from the beginning. The krw and kro increased by 40% and 15% post-compaction respectively for the samples corresponding to lower depths during triaxial compression. For these samples, residual oil saturation decreased by as much as 40%. For radial extension, the permeability enhancement decreased with depth and ranged from 20% to 50% while the residual oil saturation decreased by up to 55%. For both stress paths, more shear-enhanced permeability was observed for samples tested at lower pressures, implying that permeability enhancement is higher for shallower sands. The pore pressure increase experiments showed an increase of only 0-10% in absolute permeability except when the effective stress became close to zero. This could possibly have occurred due to steady state flow not being reached during absolute permeability measurement. The krw curves generally increased as the pore pressure was increased from 0 psi. The increase ranged from 5% to 44% for the different boundary conditions and differential stresses. The kro curves also showed an increasing trend for most of the cases. The residual oil saturation decreased by 40-60% for samples corresponding to shallow depths while it increased by 0-10% for samples corresponding to greater depths. The reservoirs with high differential stress are more conducive to favorable changes in permeability and residual oil saturation. These results suggested that a decreasing mean stress path is more beneficial for production increase than an increasing mean stress path. The unconsolidated sands are over-consolidated because of previous ice loading which makes the sand matrix stiffer. In this work, it was found that over-consolidation, as expected, decreased the porosity and permeability (40-50%) and increased the Young’s and bulk moduli of the sand. The result is sand which failed at higher than expected stress during triaxial compression. Overall, results show that lab experiments support increased permeability due to steam injection operations in heavy oil, and more importantly, the observed reduction in residual oil saturation implies SAGD induced deformation should improve recovery factors.