Shale reservoirs play an important role as a future energy resource of the United States. Numerous studies were performed to describe the storage and transport of hydrocarbons through ultrasmall pores in the shale reservoirs. Most of these studies were developed by modifying techniques used for conventional reservoirs. The common pore-size distribution of the shale reservoirs is approximately 1 to 20 nm and in such confined spaces that the interactions between the wall of the container (i.e., the shale and kerogen) and the contained fluids (i.e., the hydrocarbon fluids and water) may exert significant influence on the localized phase behavior. We believe this is because the orientation and distribution of fluid molecules in the confined space are different from those of the bulk fluid, causing changes in the localized thermodynamic properties.
This study provides a detailed account of the changes of pressure/volume/temperature properties and phase behavior (specifically, the phase diagrams) in a synthetic shale reservoir for pure hydrocarbons (methane and ethane) and a simple methane/ethane (binary) mixture. Grand canonical Monte Carlo (GCMC) simulations are performed to study the effect of confinement on the fluid properties. A graphite slab made of two layers is used to represent kerogen in the shale reservoirs. The separation between the two layers, representing a kerogen pore, is varied from 1 to 10 nm to observe the changes of the hydrocarbon-fluid properties. In this paper, the critical properties of methane and ethane as well as the methane/ethane mixture phase diagrams in different pore sizes are derived from the GCMC simulations. In addition, the GCMC simulations are used to investigate the deviations of the fluid densities in the confined space from those of the bulk fluids at reservoir conditions. Although not investigated in this work, such deviations may indicate that significant errors for production forecasting and reserves estimation in shale reservoirs may occur if the (typical) bulk densities are used in reservoir-engineering calculations.