Experimental studies have shown that the steam foam process can be significantly enhanced by injecting a suitably formulated alkali-surfactant mixture in the aqueous phase of steam. Emulsion screening tests, corefloods and flow visualization experiments using an alpha olefin sulfonate (AOS) surfactant with 16 to 18 carbon, Na2CO3 and a heavy Californian crude have shown that alkaline steam foam offers significant advantages over regular steam foam by combining the benefits of thermal and chemical enhanced oil recovery (EOR) processes.
Firstly, Na2CO3 reduces surfactant consumption by adsorption by rendering the clay surface more negatively charged. Secondly, by precipitating divalent ions that get ion-exchanged off the clays, Na2CO3 reduces surfactant consumption by precipitation. Thirdly, a suitably formulated alkali-surfactant system reduces the oil-water interfacial tension (IFT) sufficiently to enable the heavy oil to be emulsified into the aqueous phase in the presence of steam. This oil-in-water emulsion is less viscous than that of the oil and can be readily transported. Consequently, the residual oil saturation is reduced to that below steam. Fourthly, this lower residual oil saturation reduces the destabilizing effect of oil on foam resulting in stronger steam foam that provides better mobility control than regular steam foam. Therefore, it has the potential to further reduce steam gravity override. Fifthly, the reduction in gravity override also reduces loss of heat to the cap rock. Steam utilization is thereby improved.
When applied to steam drive, cyclic steam soaks and steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) processes, alkaline steam foam has the benefits of increasing foam propagate rate, improving mobility control, improving steam utilization and reducing the residual oil saturation. In the cases of steam soaks and SAGD, it also increases the gravity drainage rate of oil by reducing the effective oil viscosity through emulsification.