Laboratory experiments have demonstrated that injecting urea solution as a CO2-generating agent into an oil reservoir may significantly enhance oil recovery. When the reservoir temperature is above 50°C, urea is hydrolyzed to carbon dioxide and ammonia. This technology overcomes many supercritical CO2 problems and can be very attractive for thousands of stripper wells that produce oil on marginal economic feasibility. However, previous efforts mainly focus on laboratory tests and mechanisms study. The actual field performance of this technology is likely dependent on reservoir heterogeneity, and its economic viability is expected to be closely related to its optimization. This highly relies on numerical modeling and simulation capability.

The synergic mechanisms in in-situ CO2 EOR (ICE) using urea are complex. Firstly, the decomposition of urea injected leads to CO2 and ammonia under proper reservoir conditions. The generated CO2 in brine partitions preferably into the oil phase and decreases oil viscosity while swelling the oil effectively. The co-generated product, ammonia, can potentially reduce the interfacial tension (IFT) between the oil/water phase, which moves the relative permeability (or saturation) curves and position to offer additional oil production. In the first attempt, the dominant parameters, including urea reaction kinetics, the stoichiometry of the decomposition process, the oil swelling effect, and the impact of IFT reduction on the relative permeabilities, were considered and incorporated into the numerical modeling effort. We used the chosen numerical simulations to determine the contribution of the individual mechanism by history matching the results of laboratory tests collected previously. The one-D mechanistic numerical model was then upscaled to a synthetic homogeneous 3D model by simulating a quarter of the 5-spot sector model to evaluate the feasibility and engineering design of ICE for future field scale pilot tests and potential prize of ICE EOR. After comparing the base case with urea injection, a sensitivity analysis was performed.

As part of the aims, the simulation results differentiate and reveal the incremental contributions of the synergetic behaviors among several mechanisms: oil viscosity reduction, oil swelling, and IFT reduction. Data also showed that the IFT reduction plays a rather minor role in this effort, and its contribution is basically indistinguishable. The predominant recovery mechanisms are mainly controlled by oil swelling and viscosity reduction; temperature plays a key role in influencing the extent of reaction kinetics of urea. In the 1D simulation, the temperature significantly impacted the production performance as the core cooled down quickly. In a 3D or field-scale scenario, the waterflooding does not change the in-depth reservoir temperature as the temperature gradient moves at a much slower rate (about two times slower) than the injected urea solution slug. However, the duration of water flooding should be considered for field project design as it may alter the temperature profile in the reservoir.

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