In mixed- to oil-wet reservoirs characterized by intense natural fracturing where the dominant displacement mechanism is gravity drainage, surfactant injection can lead to a shift in wettability and incremental oil production. In some cases, oil can also reimbibe back into the rock matrix after the oil saturation has been reduced upon initial exposure to surfactant, suggesting limited permanence in the wettability shift. The reimbibition phenomenon is investigated in this paper using Amott cells.

Three cationic surfactants (C12-, C12–16-, C16-based) with interfacial tensions (IFT) between 0.18 and 0.95 mN/m were preselected to be evaluated. Current application of the C12-based surfactant in the Yates field is considered successful based on incremental oil recovery seen during the treatment. Silurian dolomite (SD) rock samples were flooded with Yates crude oil before being aged at 60°C for 6 weeks. For the imbibition tests, the aqueous surfactant solution was set as the external phase within the Amott cell, and the recovery of oil was recorded periodically. After the imbibition tests ended, the rock samples were placed in an inverse Amott cell with the Yates oil as the external phase.

Baseline tests were first conducted to show that without a surfactant in the oil or brine, no imbibition occurred. With a surfactant concentration of 3,000 ppm, oil recovery at the end of the imbibition tests varied from 34 to 60% of the original oil volume in the core sample. During the reimbibition test, a large amount of oil was able to reimbibe into the rock, displacing the brine. Most of the displacement occurred within the first 2 weeks. The net oil recovery, taken as the final volume of oil recovered in the imbibition test minus the final volume of oil reimbibed into the rock, ranged from 0 to 18%. Given the possibility of surfactant dilution in field applications, another set of tests was conducted with 1,500 ppm. A reduction in oil recovery during imbibition was observed for all the tested surfactants. Partition coefficients were determined for each of the tested surfactants, and the ion-pair mechanism was used to explain the net oil recovery results. Lastly, the impact of rock permeability on reimbibition was investigated. Results show increasing permeability may lead to a linear response in oil reimbibition; therefore, minimizing the permeability range when selecting rock samples may be necessary when conducting the reimbibition test.

The importance of oil reimbibition is demonstrated in the experimental study, and we make an argument for conducting both the imbibition and reimbibition tests to better evaluate surfactant efficacy. The improved understanding of wettability alteration should lead to advancements in chemical enhanced oil recovery (EOR) designs for field treatments.

You can access this article if you purchase or spend a download.