For optimizing and enhancing hydrocarbon recovery from unconventional plays, the technological race is currently focused on development and production of state-of-the-art surfactants that reduce interfacial tension to mitigate obstructive capillary forces and thus increase the relative permeability to hydrocarbon (kro). This study provides insight into the pore-scale evaluation of the latest flowback enhancer technologies currently applied in the Permian Basin, Texas, USA. A multidisciplinary approach, including concepts of nanotechnology, was used to assess fluid-fluid and rock-fluid interactions occurring at the nanopore scale and their implications on enhancing oil recovery.

A heterogeneous dual-porosity dual-permeability microfluidic chip was designed and developed with pore geometries representing shale formations. This micro-chip simulated Wolfcamp shale with two distinct regions: (i) a high-permeability fracture zone (20 µm pore size) interconnected to (ii) a low-permeability nano-network zone (100 nm size). The fluorescent microscopy technique was applied to visualize and quantify the performance of different flowback enhancers during injection and flowback processes.

This study highlights results from the nanofluidic analysis performed on Wolfcamp Formation rock specimens using a microreservoir-on-a-chip, which showed the benefits of the multi-functionalized surfactant (MFS) in terms of enhancing oil/condensate production. Test results obtained at a simulated reservoir temperature of 113°F (45°C) and a testing pressure of 2,176 psi (15 MPa) showed a significant improvement in relative permeability to hydrocarbon (kro) in the nanomodel when MFS was added to the stimulation fluids at loadings as low as 0.05% v/v. The results were compared against other premium flowback enhancers.

Measurements using a high-resolution spinning drop tensiometer showed a 40-fold reduction in interfacial tension when the stimulation fluid containing MFS was tested against Wolfcamp crude at 113°F (45°C). Also, MFS outperformed other premium surfactants in Amott spontaneous imbibition analysis when tested with Wolfcamp core samples.

This work used a nanofluidic model that appropriately reflected the inherent nanoconfinement of shale/tight formation to resolve the flowback process in hydraulic fracturing, and it is the first of its kind to visualize the mechanism behind this process at nanoscale. This platform also demonstrated a cost-effective alternative to coreflood testing for evaluating the effect of chemical additives on the flowback process. Conventional lab and field data were correlated with the nanofluidic analysis.

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