Research has discovered systems that can selectively flocculate mineral solids from a high molecular weight polymer flood matrix while leaving the polymer intact or alternatively achieving a viable total flocculation of the polymer in the produced fluids. Modified alkaline surfactant polymer (ASP) and standard polymer (P) flood systems were studied with findings obtained by controlled variations of both well-proven and non-prevalent chemical approaches. Results concluded that selectively removing the mineral solids from polymer-laden water produces reusable enhanced oil recovery (EOR) fluid.

EOR is a proven method to increase hydrocarbon yield from post-natural, stimulated, or standard flood driven reservoirs. Fluid produced from the reservoir contains the desired hydrocarbon and an aqueous phase. Previously considered a liability, properly treated, the aqueous phase can become an asset. Polymer floods have a proven history in EOR and, though complex in application, ASP also demonstrated EOR effectiveness in the laboratory. Most ASP approaches are currently in field trial stages. The produced fluid is subjected to hydrocarbon separation with the resulting aqueous system either treated for disposal or recycled into the system. The aqueous phase matrix is mainly composed of high molecular weight polymer, mineral solids, residual base, residual oil, and possibly surfactant. If the producer chooses disposal, the solids must be flocculated by a method balancing density, dewaterability, processability, process variability, and cost. However, if the producer opts to recycle the fluid for reinjection, steps must be taken to minimize polymer deviations requiring selective flocculation of all components with exception of the polymer. This undertaking is challenging as EOR polymers are also effective flocculants, therefore sensitive to standard coagulant and flocculant approaches. Utilizing controlled, standard methods and multivariable design of experiments, results were obtained for both total and selective flocculation.

Total flocculation systematically studies the influence of pH, inorganic, and organic coagulants in maximizing the treatment effectiveness. The same approach was successful for selective flocculation, however unique coagulants were applied. The selective flocculation process coagulated and separated the mineral solids, and left the high molecular weight polymer intact and the fluid matrix as viscous as prior to treatment. Effectiveness of treatments were determined using standard gravimetric and viscometric methods.

These discoveries will assist decision makers in determining whether total or selective flocculation is the most viable treatment for polymer based EOR, balancing environmental and economic aspects to pursue a desired treatment route. These methods, though targeting EOR, have practical applications for treatment of flowback and water produced from stimulation and potentially drilling operations as well.

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