Exploring Low-IFT Foam EOR in Fractured Carbonates: Success and Particular Challenges of Sub-10-mD Limestone

Dong, Pengfei (Rice University) | Puerto, Maura (Rice University) | Jian, Guoqing (Rice University) | Ma, Kun (Total) | Mateen, Khalid (Total) | Ren, Guangwei (Total) | Bourdarot, Gilles (Total) | Morel, Danielle (Total) | Biswal, Sibani (Rice University) | Hirasaki, George (Rice University)



The high formation heterogeneity in naturally fractured limestone reservoirs requires mobility control agents to improve sweep efficiency and boost oil recovery. However, typical mobility control agents, such as polymers and gels, are impractical in tight sub-10-mD formations due to potential plugging issues. The objective of this study is to demonstrate the feasibility of a low-interfacial-tension (low-IFT) foam process in fractured low-permeability limestone reservoirs and to investigate relevant geochemical interactions.

The low-IFT foam process was investigated through core flooding experiments in homogenous and fractured oil-wet cores with sub-10-mD matrix permeability. The performance of a low-IFT foaming formulation and a well-known standard foamer (AOS C14-16) were compared in terms of the efficiency of oil recovery. The effluent ionic concentrations were measured to understand how the geochemical properties of limestone influenced the low-IFT foam process. Aqueous stability and phase behavior tests with crushed core materials and brines containing various divalent ion concentrations were conducted to interpret the observations in the core flooding experiments.

Low-IFT foam process can achieve significant incremental oil recovery in fractured oil-wet limestone reservoirs with sub-10-mD matrix permeability. Low-IFT foam flooding in a fractured oil-wet limestone core with 5-mD matrix permeability achieved 64% incremental oil recovery compared to water flooding. In this process, because of the significantly lower capillary entry pressure for surfactant solution compared to gas, foam primarily diverted surfactant solution from the fracture into the matrix. This selective diversion effect resulted in surfactant or weak foam flooding in the tight matrix and hence improved the invading fluids flow in it. Meanwhile, the low-IFT property of the foaming formulation mobilized the remaining oil in the matrix. This oil mobilization effect of low-IFT formulation achieved lower remaining oil saturation in the swept zones compared with the formulation lacking low-IFT property with oil. The limestone geochemical instability caused additional challenges for the low-IFT foam process in limestone reservoirs compared to dolomite reservoirs. The reactions of calcite with injected fluids, such as mineral dissolution and the exchange of Calcium and Magnesium, were found to increase the Ca2+ concentration in the produced fluids. Because the low-IFT foam process is sensitive to brine salinity, the additional Ca2+ may cause potential surfactant precipitation and unfavorable over-optimum conditions. It therefore may cause injectivity and phase trapping issues especially in the homogenous limestone.

Results in this work demonstrated that despite the challenges associated with limestone dissolution, a low-IFT foam process can remarkably extend chemical EOR in fractured oil-wet tight reservoirs with matrix permeability as low as 5 mD.