iSCAL for Complete Rock Characterization: Using Pore-Scale Imaging to Determine Relative Permeability and Capillary Pressure

Lin, Qingyang (Imperial College London) | Alhammadi, Amer M. (Imperial College London) | Gao, Ying (Imperial College London) | Bijeljic, Branko (Imperial College London) | Blunt, Martin J. (Imperial College London)



We combine steady-state measurements of relative permeability with pore-scale imaging to estimate local capillary pressure. High-resolution three-dimensional X-ray tomography enables the pore structure and fluid distribution to be quantified at reservoir temperatures and pressures with a resolution of a few microns. Two phases are injected through small cylindrical samples at a series of fractional flows until the pressure differential across the core is constant. Then high-quality images are acquired from which saturation is calculated, using differential imaging to quantify the phase distributions in micro-porosity which cannot be explicitly resolved. The relative permeability is obtained from the pressure drop and fractional flow, as in conventional measurements. The curvature of the fluid/fluid interfaces in the larger pore spaces is found, then from the Young-Laplace equation, the capillary pressure is calculated. In addition, the sequence of images of fluid distribution captures the displacement process. Observed gradients in capillary pressure – the capillary end effect – can be accounted for analytically in the calculation of relative permeability.

We illustrate our approach with three examples of increasing complexity. First, we compare the measured relative permeability and capillary pressure for Bentheimer sandstone, both for a clean sample and a mixed-wet core that had been aged in reservoir crude oil after centrifugation. We characterize the distribution of contact angles to demonstrate that the mixed-wet sample has a wide range of angle centred, approximately, on 90°. We then study a water-wet micro-porous carbonate to illustrate the impact of sub-resolution porosity on the flow behaviour: here oil, as the non-wetting phase, is present in both the macro-pores and micro-porosity. Finally, we present results for a mixed-wet reservoir carbonate. We show that the oil/water interfaces in the mixed-wet samples are saddle-shaped with two opposite, but almost equal, curvatures in orthogonal directions. The mean curvature, which determines the capillary pressure, is low, but the shape of the interfaces ensures, topologically, well-connected phases, which helps to explain the favourable oil recovery obtained in these cases.

We suggest that the combination of imaging and flow experiments – which we call iSCAL – represents a compelling development in special core analysis. This methodology provides the data traditionally acquired in SCAL studies, but with insight into displacement processes, rigorous quality control, and flexibility over sample selection, while generating detailed datasets for the calibration and validation of numerical pore-scale flow models.