Efforts to increase Bakken oil recovery factors above a few percent could include carbon dioxide (CO2) enhanced oil recovery (EOR). CO2 EOR processes are expected to be very different in tight reservoirs compared to conventional reservoirs. During CO2 EOR in conventional reservoirs, CO2 flows through the permeable rock matrix, and oil is mobilized by a combination of oil swelling, reduced viscosity, hydrocarbon stripping, and CO2 displacement especially when above the minimum miscibility pressure. In the Bakken, CO2 flow will be dominated by fracture flow, and not significantly through the rock matrix. Fracture-dominated CO2 flow could essentially eliminate the displacement mechanisms responsible for increased recovery in conventional reservoirs. As such, other mechanisms must be optimized in tight reservoirs such as the Bakken.
Conceptual steps for the Bakken include: (1) CO2 flows into and through the fractures, (2) unfractured rock matrix is exposed to CO2 at fracture surfaces, (3) CO2 permeates the rock driven by pressure, carrying some hydrocarbon inward; however, the oil is also swelling and extruding some oil out of the pores, (4) oil migrates to the bulk CO2 in the fractures via swelling and reduced viscosity, and (5) as the CO2 pressure gradient gets smaller, oil production is slowly driven by concentration gradient diffusion from pores into the bulk CO2 in the fractures.
To investigate these concepts, rock samples from the Middle Bakken (low permeability), Upper and Lower Bakken (very low permeability), and a conventional reservoir (high permeability) were exposed to CO2 at Bakken conditions of 110°C and 5000 psi (230°F, 34.5 MPa) to determine the effects of CO2 exposure time on hydrocarbon production. Varying geometries of each rock ranging from small (mm) "chips" to 1 cm-diameter rods were exposed for up to 96 hours, and mobilized hydrocarbons were collected for analysis. Nearly complete (>95%) hydrocarbon recovery occurs in hours from the middle Bakken reservoir rock, and even faster with the more permeable conventional matrices. Unexpectedly, nearly complete recovery of hydrocarbons can even be achieved from the very tight source shales from the Lower and Upper Bakken, but requires longer exposure times and smaller rock sample sizes (i.e., high surface area to volume ratio). These results demonstrate that CO2 is capable of recovering hydrocarbons from Bakken source and reservoir rock (i.e., the thermodynamics of CO2 oil recovery are favorable), but that long periods of exposure combined with high rock surface areas are required (i.e., the kinetics of the recovery process are slow). The present study reports experimental methods and the resultant data to investigate the proposed mechanisms that will control CO2 EOR in tight formations. Implications for CO2 EOR processes in unconventional reservoirs are discussed.