Source rocks contain significant volumes of hydrocarbon fluids trapped in kerogen, however their effective recovery is challenged due to amplified fluid-wall interactions and the nanopore confinement impact on fluid composition. Enhanced oil production can be achieved by modifying the existing molecular forces in kerogen pore-network by using custom-designed targeted chemistry technologies. Our objective is to show how the transport of hydrocarbons in kerogen and its recovery can be altered with the delivery of microemulsion nanodroplets into the pore network. This is done by using computational chemistry and molecular dynamics (MD) simulations.

Molecular dynamics simulation is used to generate a 3D model replica of a Type II kerogen representative of source rocks located in Delaware and Midland basins in the United States. Oil phase saturated kerogen is modeled as consisting of nine different types of molecules: dimethyl naphthalene, toluene, tetradecane, decane, octane, butane, propane, ethane and methane. The delivered microemulsion is an aqueous dispersion of solvent-swollen surfactant micelles. The solvent and nonionic surfactant present in the microemulsion are modeled as d-limonene and dodecanol heptaethyl ether (C12E7), respectively. Molecular dynamics simulation experiments include two steps: (i) the injection of microemulsion treatment fluid into the oil-saturated kerogen pore-network, and (ii) transient flow-back of the oil-chemical mixture in the pore network. The utilized 3D kerogen models were developed based on a representative oil sample composition (H, C, O, S, N) from the region. Simulation results show that microemulsions can affect the reservoir via two different mechanisms. During the injection, microemulsion nanodroplets that enter the nano-capillaries of pore network disperse in the liquid present in the pore space under the influence of pore walls. The solvent dissolves in the oil phase and alters the physical and transport properties of the phase, while the surfactant molecules modify the wettability of the solid kerogen surfaces. The recovery effectiveness of heavier oil fractions is improved compared to the recovery effectiveness achieved with surfactant micelles without the solubilized solvent.

New 3D kerogen models are presented using atomistic modeling and molecular simulations. These models possess important chemical and physical characteristics of the organic matter of the source rock. Molecular dynamic experiments indicate that solubilized solvent and surfactant are delivered as part of a microemulsion droplet and are expected to aid the mobilization of oil present within kerogen.

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