Mechanistic modeling, design, and optimization of alkaline/surfactant/polymer flooding



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Alkaline/surfactant/polymer (ASP) flooding is of increasing interest and importance because of high oil prices and the need to increase oil production. The benefits of combining alkali with surfactant are well established. The alkali has very important benefits such as lowering interfacial tension and reducing adsorption of anionic surfactants that decrease costs and make ASP a very attractive enhanced oil recovery method provided the consumption is not too large and the alkali can be propagated at the same rate as a synthetic surfactant and polymer. However, the process is complex so it is important that new candidates for ASP be selected taking into account the numerous chemical reactions that occur in the reservoir. The reaction of acid and alkali to generate soap and its subsequent effect on phase behavior is the most crucial for crude oils containing naphthenic acids. Using numerical models, the process can be designed and optimized to ensure the proper propagation of alkali and effective soap and surfactant concentrations to promote low interfacial tension and a favorable salinity gradient. The first step in this investigation was to determine what geochemical reactions have the most impact on ASP flooding under different reservoir conditions and to quantify the consumption of alkali by different mechanisms. We describe the ASP module of UTCHEM simulator with particular attention to phase behavior and the effect of soap on optimum salinity and solubilization ratio. Several phase behavior measurements for a variety of surfactant formulations and crude oils were successfully modeled. The phase behavior results for sodium carbonate, blends of surfactants with an acidic crude oil followed the conventional Winsor phase transition with significant three-phase regions even at low surfactant concentrations. The solubilization data at different oil concentrations were successfully modeled using Hand's rule. Optimum salinity and solubilization ratio were correlated with soap mole fractions using mixing rules. New ASP corefloods were successfully modeled taking into account the aqueous reactions, alkali/rock interactions, and the phase behavior of soap and surfactant. These corefloods were performed in different sandstone cores with several chemical formulations, crude oils with a wide range of acid numbers, brine with a wide range of salinities, and a wide range of temperatures. 2D and 3D sector model ASP simulations were performed based on field data and design parameters obtained from coreflood history matches. The phenomena modeled included aqueous phase chemical reactions of the alkaline agent and consequent consumption of alkali, the in-situ generation of surfactant by reaction with the acid in the crude, surfactant/soap phase behavior, reduction of surfactant adsorption at high pH, cation exchange with clay, and the effect of co-solvent on phase behavior. Sensitivity simulations on chemical design parameters such as mass of surfactant and uncertain reservoir parameters such as kv/kh ratio were performed to provide insight as the importance of each of these variables in chemical oil recovery. Simulations with different permeability realizations provided the range for chemical oil recoveries. This study showed that it is very important to model both surface active components and their effect on phase behavior when doing mechanistic ASP simulations. The reactions between the alkali and the minerals in the formation depend very much on which alkali is used, the minerals in the formation, and the temperature. This research helped us increase our understanding on the process of ASP flooding. In general, these mechanistic simulations gave insights into the propagation of alkali, soap, and surfactant in the core and aid in future coreflood and field scale ASP designs.