Microemulsion Flow in Porous Media: Implications for Alkaline-Surfactant-Polymer Flooding

Humphry, Katherine Jane (Shell Global Solutions International) | van der Lee, Merit (Shell Global Solutions International) | Southwick, Jeff G. (Sarawak Shell) | Ineke, Erik M. (Shell Global Solutions International) | van Batenburg, Diederik W (Shell Global Solutions International)


Workflows to assess the technical and economic suitability of an enhanced oil recovery (EOR) technique for a particular field generally involve laboratory testing, such as core flooding experiments, and field-scale reservoir modelling. When building field scale models and interpreting laboratory experiments it is important to understand the flow properties of all phases present.

Alkali-surfactant-polymer flooding (ASP) is an EOR technique under consideration for a number of Malaysian oil fields. In ASP flooding, surface-active molecules decrease the interfacial tension between water and crude oil, increasing the capillary number, and recovering oil trapped in the reservoir pores. The ultra-low interfacial tensions needed for ASP flooding occur when the surface active molecules are equally soluble in the brine and oil phases. Under these conditions, in addition to the brine and oil phases, a third thermodynamically stable phase is formed. This third phase is known as a microemulsion. While the flow properties of crude oil and polymer-enriched brine are well understood, little has been done to characterize the microemulsion phase, particularly with respect to rheology in porous media.

Here, preliminary measurements of microemulsion rheology are presented. Large volumes of microemulsion, with and without polymer, are generated using model alkali-surfactant (AS) and alkali-surfactant-polymer (ASP) systems. These microemulsions are studied using conventional shear rheology. The viscosities measured using a conventional shear rheometer indicate microemulsion viscosities higher than either the AS(P) solution or decane from which they are comprised. Additionally, an in situ, or apparent, viscosity is recovered from core flooding experiments in Berea sandstone, where pressure drop across the core is recorded as a function of the flow rate of the microemulsion through the core. In situ viscosity measurements in Berea sandstone indicate apparent viscosities 1.5 to 6 times larger than those measured in a conventional shear rheometer. The implication of these results for ASP flooding is discussed.