Given the high viscosity of the oil, bitumen from oil sands reservoirs in western Canada is recovered by using steam which, due to its temperature, lowers its viscosity. One of the key issues faced by the operators is the steam conformance of the depletion chamber around wells. The greater the fingering phenomena of steam at the edge of chamber, the worse is the chamber uniformity and utilization of the well, and the greater are the green house gas emissions and water use per unit oil recovered. Fingering has long been explained as the penetration of steam phase into the oil phase which arises from an unfavourable mobility ratio. In this paper, we introduce linear instability analyses (Orr-Sommerfeld and Rayleigh-Taylor/Saffman-Taylor instability) of the interface between steam and oil layers and conduct a series of numerical simulations to reveal that fingering in the steam-assisted heavy oil recovery at the top of the steam chamber is created due to solution gas exsolution whereas fingering at the chamber edge is due to viscous shear instability. The results show that non-ideal steam conformance is inevitable even in homogeneous reservoirs.

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