Hydraulic fracturing has always been associated with significant volumes of fracturing fluid invading the formation matrix, which leads to water blockage and a reduction in relative permeability to gas or oil. In Shale and tight formations, this has become more challenging since capillary forces have profound impact on water retention and hence, water recovery and subsequent oil productivity. Surfactants and microemulsions have been extensively reported as flowback additives to lower surface and interfacial tension to maximize water recovery.

Most of the previous studies focused on a few testing methods to validate a surfactant or a microemulsion formulation for flowback use. In this work, a new environmentally friendly water-based surfactant formulation (Surf-I) was evaluated for flowback and its performance was compared against several industry standards of microemulsions and non-ionic alcohol ethoxylated surfactant. Surface tension (ST), interfacial tension (IFT), contact angle (CA), and coreflood tests were conducted in a wide range of typical field conditions of water salinity, temperature, crude oil type, and surfactant concentration. Core flow testing on 0.1-0.3 md Kentucky sandstone was conducted simulating oil reservoirs following constant-pressure flow schemes of 50-500 psi. Water recovery and oil productivity were determined for each pressure stage.

The new formulation showed a surface tension of 26 mN/m with CMC corresponding to a load of 0.1-0.3 gpt, depending on the water salinity. Interfacial tension measurements varied from 0.17 mN/m to 10 mN/m, depending on the crude oil type and temperature. Contact angle measurements indicated the surfactant ability to water-wet controlled substrates. The coreflood results confirmed the benefit of using surfactants for flowback versus non-surfactant cases, especially at low- to mid-pressure flow and. At 50 psi pressure difference, no oil was observed in the no-surfactant case. At 100, 250, and 500 psi the oil productivity with surfactant was 53, 22, and 20% higher than the base case. The results also showed that a formulation with ultra-low IFT (5E-2 mN/m), can initially recover substantial water volume but did not show a superior performance over the new formulation. The data obtained in this study can be used to identify the optimum criteria of a flowback additive in terms of surface tension, IFT, and wettability requirement to enhance water recovery and maximize oil productivity.

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