Summary

In this study, to investigate how gravity affects foam in open vertical fractures, we report foam experiments in three 1-m-long, 15-cm-wide glass-model fractures. Each fracture has a smooth wall and a roughened wall. Between the two walls is a slit-like channel representing a single geological fracture. Three model fractures (Models A, B, and C) share the same roughness and have different hydraulic apertures of 78, 98, and 128 µm, respectively. We conduct foam experiments by horizontal injection in the three model fractures placed horizontally and sideways (i.e., with the model fractures turned on their long side), and in Model A placed vertically with injection upward or downward. Direct imaging of the foam inside the model fracture is facilitated using a high-speed camera. We find that foam reaches local equilibrium (LE; where the rate of bubble generation equals that of bubble destruction) in horizontal-flow experiments in all three model fractures and in vertical-flow experiments in Model A. In fractures with a larger hydraulic aperture, foam is coarser because of less in-situ foam generation. In the vertical-flow experiments in Model A, we find that the properties of the foam are different in upward and downward flow. Compared with downward flooding, upward flooding creates a finer-texture foam, as sections near the inlet of this experiment are in a wetter state, which benefits in-situ foam generation. Moreover, less gas is trapped during upward flooding, as gravitational potential helps overcome the capillarity and moves bubbles upward. In the sideways-flow experiments, gravity segregation takes place. As a result, drier foam propagates along the top of the fractures and wetter foam along the bottom. The segregation is more significant in fractures with a larger hydraulic aperture. At foam quality 0.8, gas saturation is 27.7% greater at the top than the bottom for Model C, and 19.3% and 10.8% for Models B and A, respectively. Despite the gravity segregation in all three model fractures, water and gas are not completely segregated. All three model fractures thus represent a capillary transition zone, with greater segregation with increasing aperture. Our results suggest that the propagation of foam in vertical natural fractures meters tall and tens of meters long, with an aperture of hundreds of microns or greater, is problematic. Gravity segregation in foam would weaken its capacity in the field to maintain uniform flow and divert gas in a tall fracture over large distances.

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