Foam has been extensively investigated as a method to improve the mobility control of non-condensable gases in the EOR context. Recently, there has been renewed interest in foam applied to steam injections. However, steam is a condensable gas and thus steam-foam requires special analyses that differ from classical foam assessments. This work presents the coreflood results of a steam-foam process evaluation for the Ratqa Lower Fars (RQLF) heavy oil reservoir in Kuwait.
Using specifically designed foaming surfactants, coreflood tests in the absence and presence of heavy crude oil are performed in native sandpack cores under RQLF reservoir conditions (220°C; 360 psi). In order to limit steam condensation due to the build-up of the foam pressure, steam has been supplemented with a small amount of non-condensable gas (nitrogen, about 1 - 5 mol.%). Interstitial velocity was decreased from 40 ft/day down to 1 ft/day (CWE). Phase equilibria at the core inlet were estimated based on thermodynamics flash calculations. From these calculations inlet steam quality was varied from 10 to 70 wt.%. In absence of oil, the apparent viscosity of the generated steam-foam is measured between 25 and 50 cP, depending on the interstitial velocity and inlet steam quality. Indeed, beside the classical shear-thickening behaviour observed with the decreasing flow rates, the critical or optimal steam quality is found to be closed to 30 wt.%. Furthermore, even at higher steam quality the foam is still stable and efficient with a viscosity higher than 25 cP. Experiments in the presence of crude oil were carried out under the same conditions in native cores at a steam residual oil saturation of 7% and 13%. These experiments showed that the optimal steam quality is shifted to approximatively 10 wt.%. Furthermore, the foam flow curve shows a shear-thinning behavior that is elaborated upon. Finally, the viscosity in the presence of heavy crude oil of the generated steam-foam is within the range of 7 to 22 cP, depending on the oil saturation and on the injection conditions. Considering the oil viscosity (2 to 3 cP) under the same conditions, this means that the foam effect should translate into efficient improved conformance control of the steam within the reservoir.
For the first time, an efficient and stable steam-foam is generated in coreflood experiments. The generated foam achieved high apparent viscosities, even in the presence of oil, and this has not been reported in the literature to date. The results presented here are far more than a proof of concept as they bring new evidences regarding steam-foam efficiency and mechanisms with heavy crude oil.