Chemical EOR methods have become an increasingly attractive option for heavy oil reservoirs where thermal methods cannot be applied, like in thin reservoirs. The use of surfactants for heavy oil is only reported, both at lab and field scale, in a limited number of cases and mostly in combination with alkali to benefit from the generation of in-situ surfactants. However, operational issues (such as scale or corrosion) associated with the use of alkali as well as negative impacts on project logistics are often mentioned. The objective of this work is to demonstrate at lab scale the efficiency of alkaline-free surfactant-polymer processes in the context of heavy oil reservoirs.

The present investigation is focused on a Canadian heavy oil (14°API and 1400 cP) in representative reservoir conditions (high permeability sandstone, temperature of 35°C, low salinity). A dedicated synthetic surfactant formulation is designed using a screening methodology based on a robotic platform. Ultra-low interfacial tensions are evidenced from phase behavior and confirmed by spinning-drop tensiometry. Oil recovery performances of the surfactant formulation are then evaluated in corefloods.

Cores at Swi are first polymer flooded until no oil is produced to reach a residual oil saturation. Surfactant-Polymer formulations are then injected. Typical results show that additional oil is produced as a continuous oil bank (up to 100% ROIP depending on the slug size) and with a moderate adsorption if a salinity gradient strategy is applied (typically 0.2 mg surfactant per g of rock). This indicates that the surfactant is able to mobilize most of the residual oil. The results of this exploratory investigation show that alkaline-free surfactant-polymer processes could be applied to heavy oil reservoirs while minimizing operational issues. Complementary work will also be presented on optimization of the process through injection strategy improvement and surfactant dosage reduction as well as on extrapolation of the lab results to field-scale technical and economical feasibility.

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