The global demand of crude oil is increasing over time. The expansion of industries and increase of population have caused petroleum production to lag behind demand. Oil producing countries thus face a daunting challenge in continuing to meet this demand requiring development of unconventional reservoirs. One such resource is contained in heavy oil reservoirs. Producing this high viscosity oil is complex and challenging usually requiring thermal recovery techniques in which heat is introduced into the reservoir to lower the oil viscosity. However, the details of the process are poorly understood, making efficient engineering of these projects difficult. In this work, heavy oil recovery by steam flood is evaluated experimentally using X-ray computed tomography (CT). The effect of heat loss on steam zone advancement and its impact on heavy oil recovery is investigated.

The X-ray CT was used to visualize and observe experimentally the heavy oil fluid flow displacement in unconsolidated core sample. Prior to steam flood, the heavy oil saturation in the core sample was 72% and irreducible water saturation was 28%. The detail of the experimental steps were monitored and quantified by the X-ray CT facilities.

The performance of heavy oil recovery by steam flood was analyzed. Heavy oil recovery was 37.7% at breakthrough. The steam zone advancement over time was quantified. The steam condensed to hot water at the interface with heavy oil during the displacement. The steam zone, hot water bank, and heavy oil movement were monitored. Maps and profiles of oil saturation over pore volume injected were generated. The heat loss to the surrounding medium and to the displaced fluid (heavy oil) controls the steam zone advancement.

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