A capillary desaturation curve (CDC) depicts the relationship between residual oil saturation, Sor, (i.e. oil left behind in a well-swept permeable medium) and capillary number. A CDC is one of the most fundamental curves of oil recovery as it reveals flow conditions required for good oil displacement in porous media. Despite the importance of this critical curve, the fundamentals describing the physics of a CDC are still incomplete.

We present a physical model to describe the capillary desaturation curve. The model balances the capillary pressure and applied viscous stresses caused by flow and takes advantage of contact angle hysteresis that occurs in porous media. It defines a critical oil ganglia length that depends inversely on capillary number and depends on porosity, permeability, and wettability. We have combined the critical oil ganglia expression and ganglia length distribution in porous media to arrive at an expression for the capillary desaturation curve. The model suggests that when a trapped oil ganglion is larger than the critical ganglia length, the applied pressure difference can mobilize the trapped oil ganglion. We describe the differences and similarities between our critical ganglia length expression and previously reported expressions. The model describing the relationship between residual oil saturation and capillary number was successfully verified with microfluidic experiments using various crude oils and displacing fluids. We have also demonstrated that the model applies to previously reported coreflood CDCs from sandstone and carbonate media. Extension of the model led to a single curve representation of variations in Sor with reduced pressure. This representation is independent of the chemistry of the displacing fluid.

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