Wettability alteration in shale formations can be an important factor in improving the performance of hydraulic fracturing treatments. The use of surfactants in the frac fluid, at proper concentrations, has shown to change wettability in Unconventional Liquid Reservoirs (ULR) favoring the process of imbibition. This study evaluates and compares the efficiency of anionic and nonionic surfactants in recovering hydrocarbons in carbonate and siliceous preserved side-wall core. The techniques developed also open the door for investigation of low concentration surfactants for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) in ULR.
Contact angle (CA) experiments were performed, using the captive bubble method, to measure the magnitude of wettability alteration on intermediate to oil-wet ULR core at reservoir temperature (165 °F). Different types of anionic and nonionic surfactants at field concentrations were used. The results showed that all surfactants lower the CA at the concentration tested. However, anionic surfactants showed better results as observed by lower contact angles. IFT measurements were also performed, using the pendant drop and spinning drop methods, at reservoir temperature using reservoir crude oil and anionic and nonionic surfactants at the same concentrations. The IFT reduction was similar for each type of surfactant compared to regular frac fluid without any surfactant, but anionic surfactant showed slightly better capability of reducing IFT than nonionic surfactants.
Computed tomography (CT) scan methods were used to gauge the performance of these surfactants in improving oil recovery. The magnitude of penetration or imbibition into artificially-fractured ULR cores was studied for both anionic and nonionic surfactants. Frac fluids containing surfactants were mixed with a dopant salt to trace the movement of these fluids and measure the penetration numerically. Both, anionic and nonionic, surfactants have higher penetration magnitudes compared to slick water without surfactant. However, anionic surfactants displaced a higher observable amount of liquid hydrocarbon from the shale cores. This observation agrees qualitatively with the results observed in the CA experiments where anionic surfactants showed the lowest contact angles. From the results obtained, it can be concluded that anionic surfactants alter wettability in these ULR core, giving lower CA, better spontaneous imbibition and higher oil recovery than nonionic surfactants. These observed wettability changes induced by surfactants mixed in the frac fluids can improve matrix penetration with spontaneous imbibition which opens further discussions for EOR potential in shale formations.