Although the alkali/surfactant/polymer (ASP) flooding technique used for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) was put forward many years ago, it was not until 2014 that it was first put into practice in industrial applications with hundreds of injectors and producers in the Daqing Oil Field in China. In this study, 30 ASP-flooding field tests in China were reviewed to promote the better use of this promising technology. Up to the present, ASP flooding in the Daqing Oil Field deserves the most attention.
Alkali type does affect the ASP-flooding effect. Strong alkali [using sodium hydroxide (NaOH)] ASP flooding (SASP) was given more emphasis than weak alkali [using sodium carbonate (Na2CO3)] ASP flooding (WASP) for a long time in the Daqing Oil Field because of the lower interfacial tension (IFT) of the surfactant and the higher recovery associated with NaOH than with Na2CO3. Other ASP-flooding field tests completed in China all used Na2CO3. With progress in surfactant production, a recent large-scale WASP field test in the Daqing Oil Field produced an incremental oil recovery nearly 30% higher than most previous SASP recoveries and close to the value of the most-successful SASP test. However, the most-successful SASP test was partly attributed to the weak alkali factor. Recent studies have shown that the WASP incremental oil recovery factor could be as good as that of SASP but with much-better economic benefits.
Screening of surfactant by IFT test is very important in the ASP-flooding practice in China. Whether dynamic or equilibrium IFT should be selected as criteria in surfactant screening is still in dispute. Many believe the equilibrium IFT is more important than the dynamic IFT in terms of the displacement efficiency; thus, it is better to choose a lower dynamic IFT when the equilibrium IFT meets the 10−3 order-of-magnitude requirement. However, it is impossible for many surfactants to form ultralow equilibrium IFT. Because of the low acid value of the Daqing crude oil, the asphaltene and resin components play a very important role in reducing the oil/water IFT and asphaltene is believed to be more influential, although more work is required to resolve this controversial issue.
Whether polymer viscoelasticity can reduce the residual oil saturation is still a matter of debate. Advances in surfactant production and in the overcoming of scaling and produced-fluid-handling challenges form the foundation of the industrial application of ASP flooding. Further work is advised on the emulsification effect of ASP flooding. According to one field test, the EOR routine should be selected depending on consideration of the residual oil type to decide whether to increase the sweep volume and/or displacement efficiency. The micellar flooding failure in one ASP field test in China has led all subsequent field tests in China to choose the “low concentration, large slug” technical route instead of the “high concentration, small slug” one. ASP flooding can increase oil recovery by 30% at a cost of less than USD 30/bbl; thus, this technique can be used in response to low-oil-price challenges.