Many reservoirs in Canada are too small or thin for energy-intensive thermal EOR operations. The reservoirs may also be disturbed during primary production, generating low-resistance flow-pathways between injectors and producers, thus injected fluids will follow these pathways and not contact additional oil. In these conditions, alkali-surfactant injection has considerable potential as a technique for additional non-thermal recovery of heavy oil.

During unstable displacement of heavy oil by water, water breakthrough occurs early, and subsequent water injection will channel mostly through the water fingers and bypass significant volumes of continuous oil. It has been shown in other works that alkali and/or surfactant injection can lead to improved heavy oil recovery compared to waterflooding, but researchers have proposed different reasons for this response. This work summarizes the mechanisms that are responsible for improved heavy oil recovery and presents the results of 30 laboratory core floods investigating alkali-surfactant injection into sand-packs containing heavy oil (viscosity 11,500 mPa⋅s at 23°C).

By injecting less than 1% of alkali-surfactant (AS) solution with water, a combination of oil-in-water (O/W) and water-in-oil (W/O) emulsions will form in the water channels, effectively blocking them off. Further injected solution will therefore contact fresh regions of the core. It is shown that this design of AS injection in heavy oil leads to improved sweep efficiency of the flood. This corresponds to lower apparent relative permeability values to the aqueous phase, and a discussion is provided regarding how AS floods can be controlled and optimized.

In any heavy oil reservoir that is considered a viable candidate for waterflooding, AS flooding can also potentially be applied. The significance of this work is that it describes the mechanisms responsible for the improved oil recovery, which allows for optimized design of chemical flooding conditions. This study demonstrates how a small amount of chemical injected along with water can lead to dramatic improvements in the recovery from previously flooded heavy oil fields.

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