Reservoir recovery processes are complex and typically entail several physical or chemical mechanisms. Polymer flooding has often been depicted to be dominated by one mechanism: water viscosification reduces the mobility ratio, and stabilizes the displacement front to increase oil recovery. Increasingly though the contribution of mechanisms other than water viscosification is becoming understood. This paper points out two novel insights into polymer flooding: (1) the intrinsic value of the polymer is likely being overestimated and (2) the practice of operating the polymer flood with incomplete voidage replacement may indeed be optimal.

The conversion of a conventional waterflood to a polymer flood entails significant injectivity reduction, up to 50% or more. The maintenance of complete voidage replacement (VRR = 1) would thus require an increase in the number of injectors, or a reduction of total production rate or both. As both interventions reduce the economic returns, most projects operate with incomplete voidage replacement (VRR < 1). We have previously reported that a VRR < 1 improves the waterflood response of heavy oil reservoirs. Thus using the VRR = 1 waterflood as the comparison benchmark to the polymer response may overestimate the value of viscosification – the intrinsic value of the polymer. To quantify this, we have performed numerical simulations of polymer flooding for VRRs ranging from 0.4 to 1.4, deconvolving the relative contributions of the viscosification and VRR < 1 mechanisms. We observe that a polymer flood operated with VRR > 1 (above the oil bubble point) underperforms a polymer flood with a VRR < 1 by as much as one third. We conclude that the intrinsic value of the polymer is overestimated.

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