Cyclic steam stimulation (CSS) has been used in California since the 1960s. It has been used as an effective method for commercial oil recovery from the very low permeability diatomite formation since about the mid-1990's. Santa Maria Energy (SME) operates a CSS project in the Opal A diatomite of the Sisquoc formation on the Careaga Lease in the Orcutt Oil Field in Santa Barbara County, California. A 19-well CSS pilot has been operational since October, 2009. SME has received entitlement to proceed with an expansion consisting of 110 additional new wells.

The CSS process designed by SME for the diatomite zone is one that works without fracturing the reservoir rock. An earlier paper was presented that describes techniques used for monitoring steam injection to help keep the injected steam confined to the zone of interest1 . One such technique is Hall's method2  for water injection and adopted for steam. Corresponding algorithms have been programmed into a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system to survey and analyze all steam injection cycles for all wells. The method has also been used to analyze steam injection step rate tests (SRT). This paper discusses:

  • Two SRT's performed using steam injection;

  • The analytical techniques used; and

  • The results.

Of special importance is that matrix flow is seen for CSS even though the injection bottom-hole pressure exceeds that which might normally be considered the rock fracture or parting pressure. This is due to partial plugging and other phenomena during steam injection that occurs to an extent not realized in more permeable rocks (such as very high permeability sandstones). These effects produce extra pressure drop during steam injection into the diatomite zone. This raises questions about the misuse of tubing wellhead pressure readings during steam injection as a reliable indicator of the reservoir formation parting pressure. As a result of this and other work, SME has adopted a specific range of CSS injection rates that are below a critical rate to help insure steam injection is confined to the zone of interest.

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