X-Ray Micro-Focus Monitoring of Water Alternating Gas Injection in Heterogeneous Formations

Luo, J. S. (University of Texas at Austin) | Chen, X. (University of Texas at Austin) | Espinoza, D. N. (University of Texas at Austin) | Nguyen, Q. P. (University of Texas at Austin)



Water alternating gas (WAG) injection is a common technique in enhanced oil recovery. However, gas injection often associates with fingering due to high gas mobility, which leaves a large portion of the reservoir unswept. This study addresses gas mobility control observations through novel X-ray microfocus visualization of core-flood experiments and interpretation aided by numerical simulation. We use foam as our primary mobility control agent for improving conformance.

The experimental setup utilizes an automated fluid injection system monitored by an X-ray microfocus scanner to quantify displacement patterns and saturations during WAG core-flood experiments. The core-flood device – placed within an X-ray shielded cabinet – is wirelessly operated through a computer. The resolution of the images permits observation of not only core scale fingering but also pore-scale displacement. We use a metastable foam with surfactant dissolved in the liquid phase to stabilize the gas diffusion in the liquid and to decrease the permeability and/or lower the apparent gas viscosity.

Results show that saturation patterns and displacement front during WAG injection are highly influenced by bedding orientation and rock heterogeneity. Without gas mobility control during WAG injection, fingering and early breakthrough occur in those cases in which bedding orientation facilitates gas to flow through high permeability layers. In these cases, sweep efficiency is low during early time injection of nitrogen and only improves after injection is prolonged. With gas mobility control, the displacement efficiency is significantly improved. Also, dynamic processes like phase trapping, which could severely impair permeability and overall sweep efficiency, is more clearly visualized with the microfocus technique. Simulation work matches experimental data well and replicates saturation patterns measured experimentally in laminated Berea sandstone samples.

The novel visualization technique presented here provides new pore-scale experimental insight to quantifying WAG displacement in heterogeneous media, a resolution one order of magnitude higher than with medical X-ray CT or other core-scale visualization techniques. The findings are useful for understanding flow regimes in structurally complex and heterogeneous formations.