With the recent dramatic drop in oil price, production from ultra-tight resources, like the Bakken formation, may drop substantially. Since expenditures for drilling, completion, and fracking have already been made, existing wells will continue to flow, but oil rates will decline—rapidly in many cases. In a low oil-price environment, what can be done to sustain oil production from these tight formations?

We are testing a surfactant imbibition process to recovery oil from shales. We measured surfactant imbibition rates and oil recovery values in laboratory cores from the Bakken shale. After optimizing surfactant formulations at reservoir conditions, we observed oil recovery values up to 10–20% OOIP incremental over brine imbibition. However, whether or not surfactant imbibition will be a viable recovery process depends on achieving sufficiently high oil production rates in a field setting—which requires that we identify conditions that will maximize imbibition rate, as well as total oil recovery. In this paper, we describe laboratory evaluations of oil recovery using different core plugs. These recovery studies involved

(1) surfactant formulation optimization on concentration, salinity and pH, (2) characterization of phase behavior, (3) spontaneous imbibition, and (4) forced imbibition (flooding) with gravity drainage assistance.

In preserved cores, we observed: (1) Formulations using 0.1% surfactant concentration at 4% TDS salinity showed favorable oil recoveries (up to 40% OOIP). (2) Generally, surfactant formulations at optimal concentration and salinity were stable at high temperature (115°C). (3) Injectivity/permeability enhancements up to 75 percent occurred after acidification using acetic acid or HCl. (4) Wettability alteration is the dominant mechanism for surfactant imbibition. Of course, actions that increase fracture width will aid gravity drainage and oil recovery. This information is being used to design and implement a field application of the surfactant imbibition process in an ultra-tight resource.

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