High Pressure Air Injection (HPAI) is a potentially attractive enhanced recovery method for deep, high-pressure light oil reservoirs. The clear advantage of air over other injectants, like hydrocarbon gas, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, or flue gas is its availability at any location. Although, the process has successfully been applied in the Williston Basin for more than two decades, the potential risks associated with the presence of oxygen in air are a significant hurdle for implementation in other locations.
Thermal simulations that include combustion are required to quantify the incremental oil, the oxygen consumption and resulting oxygen distribution from the application of HPAI in a given field. Once such a simulation model is available, it can be used to optimize the injection strategy: strategies that have a good incremental recovery while reducing the amount of gas injected are key to a successful project. The injection rate is bounded by a technical lower limit and an economic upper limit: there is a minimum rate required to maintain the combustion and high rates require larger compressors that are more expensive.
This paper focuses on the optimization of the injection strategy for HPAI in a 3D model with realistic geological features. Numerical simulations with a thermal model that includes combustion were conducted for continuous versus alternating air injection. A critical assumption for alternating air injection in that the remaining oil spontaneously re-ignites.
This study shows that water alternating air injection has a great potential to improve HPAI projects: project life can be extended and incremental recovery is improved when compared with continuous air injection. In addition, the variation in distribution of oxygen between different cycles is presented. This also illustrates that the numerical model can be used as an oxygen management tool. The effects of alternating air injection are comparable to the effects of alternating gas injection: the saturation in the swept areas changes due to the alternating (re-) invasion of gas, oil and water.
This paper illustrates that modeling oxygen consumption is essential for the evaluation of potential risks and optimization of the HPAI process.