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Hydrodynamic aquifer or reservoir compartmentalization? 
Ann Muggeridge and Hisham Mahmode
Changes in oil-water contact (OWC) depth across a field areoften a signature of reservoir compartmentalization as a result of faulting or stratigraphic barriers, such as shales, but mayequally well be caused by an underlying hydrodynamic aqui-fer. In particular, the pressure-depth data obtained from anaquiferwhoseflowischangingovertimecanlookverysimilarto that obtained from a compartmentalized reservoir. Mis-understanding which of these mechanisms causes the ob-served changes in OWC across the field may result in poorestimates of oil in place and reduced recovery. To address thisproblem, an analytic expression is presented to estimate thetimetakenforasteadystatetiltedOWCtobeestablishedoncean aquifer starts flowing. A comparison with simulations of hydrodynamicaquifersinhomogeneous,compartmentalized,and heterogeneous reservoir models shows that this expres-sioncanbeusedincombinationwiththeonederivedbyM.K.Hubbert,forthesteadystatetiltoftheOWC,toclarifywhethera reservoir contains barriers or baffles to flow or may simplyhave not yet reached equilibrium.
Changes in oil-water or gas-water contact depth across res-ervoirs have been observed in many fields around the world.These are typically observed by analysis of data from repeat formation testers (RFTs, Goetz et al., 1977) or modular for-mation dynamics testers (MDTs, Badry et al., 1993) and maybe associated with spatially varying pressures in the hydro-carbon column or the aquifer and sometimes spatially varyingtemperature. These changes in contact depth may indicate
 Ann Muggeridge
 Imperial College London SW7 2AZ, United Kingdom; a.muggeridge@ic.ac.uk 
 Ann Muggeridge is a reader in reservoir physicsin the Department of Earth Science and Engi-neering, Imperial College, London. She holds aB.Sc. degree in physics from Imperial Collegeand a Ph.D. in atmospheric physics from theUniversity of Oxford. Her research interests in-clude reservoir characterization, determining theimpact of reservoir heterogeneity on fluid flow,and enhanced oil recovery processes.
Hisham Mahmode
 Imperial College London SW7 2AZ, United Kingdom; present address: BP Exploration and Production,Wareham, Dorset BH20 5JR, United Kingdom;  hisham.mahmode08@imperial.ac.uk 
Hisham Mahmode is currently a petroleumengineer working on the Wytch Farm oil field.He worked as a reservoir engineer at RPS Energy before joining BP. He holds a B.Eng. degree incivil engineering from City University, London,and an M.Sc. degree in petroleum engineeringfrom Imperial College, London. His interests in-clude artificial lift, well performance, and under-standing dynamic reservoir behavior.
 We thank Schlumberger-GeoQuest for providing the reservoir simulation software used in thecourse of this work. We also thank Jason Go forhis helpful comments on the manuscript.The AAPG Editor thanks the following reviewersfor their work on this paper: John B. Curtis and William A. Hill.
Copyright ©2012. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists. All rights reserved.Manuscript received October 28, 2010; provisional acceptance April 5, 2011; revised manuscript receivedMay 10, 2011; final acceptance June 14, 2011.DOI:10.1306/06141110169
AAPG Bulletin, v. 96, no. 2 (February 2012), pp. 315
either barriers to flow within the reservoir (e.g., Weber,1987;Brehm, 2003; Guscott et al., 2003;Muggeridge et al., 2005; Talukdar and Brusdal,2005; Sweet and Sumpter, 2007; Underschultzet al., 2008; Bakker et al., 2009) or a hydrody-namic aquifer (e.g., Pelissier et al., 1980; Zawisza,1986, 2004; Berg et al., 1994; Thomasen andJacobsen,1994;Dennisetal.,2000;Underschultz,2005; Tozer and Borthwick, 2010), although intheGhawaroilfieldinSaudiArabia,theyhavealsobeenascribedtothermalconvection(e.g.,Stenger,1999; Stenger et al., 2001).Distinctly different oil-water contact (OWC)depths, otherwise known as perched OWCs, areassociatedwithreservoircompartmentalizationandoften occur in reservoirs in formations that haveundergonesignificantfaulting(Weber,1987;Brehm,2003; Guscott et al., 2003; Talukdar and Brusdal,2005; Bakker et al., 2009). In the Niger Delta, oilappears to have migrated into these traps via thefault system, probably during one of several fault-ing episodes (Weber, 1987). The OWCs may alsobeassociatedwithchangesinobservedoilpressuresin different wells or abnormal reservoir pressures.Continuously tiltingOWCs occurinreservoirsunderlainbyhydrodynamicaquifers (e.g., Pelissieretal.,1980;Zawisza,1986,2004;Bergetal.,1994;ThomasenandJacobsen,1994;Dennisetal.,2000;Underschultz, 2005; Tozer and Borthwick, 2010).These very slow subsurface flows are commonlynatural, resulting from meteoric waters rechargingaquifersviaoutcrops(Hubbert,1967)orexpulsionof water from porous sediments during basin sub-sidence (Hubbert, 1967; Grosjean et al., 2009),sometimes combined with aquifer discharge at sur-faceoutcrops(TozerandBorthwick,2010).Inthesecases, the reservoir is commonly normally pres-sured and the observed oil pressure is constant be-tween wells. Occasionally, tilted contacts are manmade, caused by pressure depletion in neighboringfields (e.g., Van Kirk, 1976; Coutts, 1999; Hortleet al., 2010).Stenger (1999) and Stenger et al. (2001) pro-posed that tilted contacts may be caused by lateraltemperature gradients within reservoirs. They dem-onstrated that temperature gradients within theHaradh Arab D reservoir of the Ghawar field cor-relatedwithvaryingoildensitiesacrossthefieldandhypothesizedthatthese,inturn,resultedinchangingOWCdepths.Naturalconvectionwasinvokedasamechanismforpreventinggravitationaloverturning(as described by England et al., 1995), equalizingthese horizontal density gradients. However, theydid not discuss the possibility that the lateral tem-peraturegradientsmayactuallybeanindicationof a hydrodynamic aquifer (Anderson, 2005).Being able to distinguish between these pos-sibilities during appraisal is important becausethey will result in a different topology of the con-tact depth across the prospect (and thus different values of estimated hydrocarbons in place) aswell as different models of the reservoir connec-tivity. Undiagnosed reservoir compartmentaliza-tion can have a significant adverse impact on oilrecovery (Dromgoole and Speers, 1997; Smalleyand Muggeridge, 2010). In contrast, it is generallypossible to mitigate the impact of such compart-mentalization on recovery provided that it is iden-tified during appraisal (e.g., Talukdar and Brusdal,2005;Bakkeretal.,2009).Aquiferhydrodynamicsand potential barriers to flow are also important considerations when designing subsurface carbondioxidestorageschemes(Bachuetal.,1994;Hortleet al., 2010; Larkin, 2010).Unfortunately, distinguishing between changesin contact depth resulting from compartmentali-zation and those resulting from a hydrodynamicaquifer can be difficult, particularly if the lateralpressuregradientscausingaquiferflowhavechangedin the recent past (e.g., Underschultz, 2005; Hortleet al., 2010). A typical signature of compartmen-talizationisassumedtobedifferentoilpressuresindifferent parts of the reservoir, but this can also beevidencethatthesystemhasnotyetreachedsteadystate (Dennis et al., 2000; Dennis et al., 2005;Underschultz, 2005). Similarly, the existence of ahorizontal pressure gradient in the aquifer but nosuchgradientintheoillegiscommonlyassumedtobe indicative of a hydrodynamic aquifer and goodlateral communication; however, it is equally pos-sible that pressures may have equilibrated througha low-permeability baffle on geologic time scalesbut would not equilibrate through such a baffleon production time scales (Dennis et al., 2000;
Hydrodynamic Aquifer or Reservoir Compartmentalization?
Muggeridgeetal.,2005).Arealvariationsinaquiferpermeability may result in significant variations incontacttiltacrossafield(Dennisetal.,2005),whichmightbeinterpretedasbeingcausedbybarrierstoflow when in fact, good communication exists.Althoughmanyarticlesdescribefieldevidencefor hydrodynamic aquifers, few articles investigat-ing the influence that reservoir and aquifer prop-erties and changing aquifer flux have on contact tilt have been published since the classic work of Hubbert (1953). Hubbert (1953) provided a re-lationshipthatrelatedthefluidandrockpropertiesandthehydrodynamicheadtothefinalsteadystateinclination of the oil-water (or, indeed, gas-water)contact; however, he did not provide any expres-sion for determining the time scales over whichthatsteadystateisestablished.Dennisetal.(2000,2005)showedthatitcouldtake20k.y.forsteadystate to be established after the onset of aquiferflux in a model of the Pierce field (central NorthSea, United Kingdom). Underschultz (2005) esti-mated, using Darcy
s law, that it should take be-tween 46 k.y. and 110 k.y. to reach steady state inthe Zeepard and Griffin (North West Shelf, Aus-tralia) reservoirs, respectively; however, geologicevidence suggested that the aquifer pressure fieldhadlastchangedat5.6m.y.ago.Toachievethistimescale, they had to reduce the aquifer permeabilityfrom 500 md (490 × 10
) to 10 md (9.9 ×10
) or invoke capillary barriers to flow.In this article, we used an analytic expression,originally derived by Gardner et al. (1962) for thegravitationaloverturningofmisciblefluids,andlaterapplied to gravitational overturning in oil reser-voirsbyEnglandetal.(1995),toestimatethetimescales fortiltedOWCstoreachsteadystate afteranaquifer starts or stops flowing. This expression iscomparedwiththetimescalesthatwerepredictedusing numerical simulation to ensure that the res-ervoir simulation was properly modeling the verylow flow rates in the aquifer and the response of the contact. Numerical simulation was then usedto investigate the impact of a range of reservoirheterogeneities,suchasalow-permeabilityfault,awater-wet fault forming a capillary barrier to oilflow,atarmat,andashale,onthefinalsteadystategeometryoftheOWCandthetimescalestoreachthat steady state. The results suggest that the timescales for tilted contacts to be established after anaquifer starts flowing or to relax back to the hori-zontalaftertheaquiferstopsflowingmaybeseveralhundred thousand years. Examination of the asso-ciatedpressure-depthprofileshighlightsthefactthause of such data in isolation may suggest that a res-ervoir is compartmentalized when it is still relaxingback to steady state or that good communicationonproductiontimescalesexistswheninfactthisisonlythecaseongeologictimescales.Estimationof time scales to reach steady state using the analyticexpressiongivenhereincombinationwithregionalinvestigations into changes in aquifer flux may re-duce this uncertainty and highlight when furtherdetailed modeling or data acquisition is required.
First, we review Hubbert 
s (1953) steady stateanalysis for the tilt of the OWC resulting from ahydrodynamic aquifer flowing at a constant rate inthe absence of capillary pressure. As discussed inthe introduction, this flow may result from me-teoricwatersenteringtheaquiferviaanoutcropordischarge of an aquifer at the surface.Figure 1shows a vertical cross section throughan oil reservoir underlain by a hydrodynamic aqui-fer. A pressure gradient across the aquifer in thereservoir,
, resulted in an aquifer flux from left to right with a mean interstitial velocity in theaquiferof 
, is given by
is the effective aquifer permeability forthe whole reservoir (in square meters),
is thelength of the reservoir in the direction of aquiferflow (in meters), and
is the water viscosity (inpascal-seconds).Twoverticalappraisalwellsinthereservoirareseparated by a distance,
m. By Darcy
s law, theobserved pressure difference between the wells in
Muggeridge and Mahmode

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