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Zolotukhin Reservoir Engineering

Zolotukhin Reservoir Engineering

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Relative permeability is a concept used to relate the absolute permeability (100% saturation
with a single fluid) of a porous system, to the effective permeability of a particular fluid in the
system, when that fluid occupies only a fraction of the total pore volume.
When measuring a flow-rate of a fluid versus the pressure difference in a core sample, we
can obtain (single phase flow),

q = keA

µ

p
x,

and

ke = q
A

µ x
p .
Here ke is called effective permeability. For 100% saturation, the effective permeability is
identical to the absolute permeability; i.e.ke = k.
In multiphase flow a generalisation of Darcy law has been accepted [12],

qj = kje

A

µj

pj
x ,
where j denotes a fluid phase j, and kje is called the effective (phase) permeability.
According to the last equation we can obtain,

kje = qj
A

µj x
pj

.

In a vast number of laboratory experiments it has been observed that a sum of effective
permeability’s is less than the total or absolute permeability, i.e.,

n

j=1

kje < k.

Moreover, effective (phase) permeability was noticed to be a function of quite a number of
parameters, such as: fluid saturation, rock property, absolute permeability, fluid property, and
reservoir conditions (pressure, temperature),

kje = f(k,p,T,S1,S2,...,Sn,...) j∈[1,n].

111

112

Chapter 7. Relative Permeability

In two phase systems the latter relationship is expressed as functions of a single (by con-
vention, wetting) saturation.
The effective permeability can be decomposed into theabsolute permeability and therela-
tive
permeability, as shown below,

kej = krj·k.

The relative permeability is a strong function of the saturation of phaseSj. Being a rock-
fluid property, the functionality between krj and Sj is also a function of rock properties (e.g.
pore size distribution) and wettability. It is not, in general, a strong correlation between relative
permeability and fluid properties, though when certain properties (e.g. interfacial tension)
change drastically, relative permeability can be affected [40].
It is important to note that the phase permeability is a tensorial function (as the absolute
permeability) and that the relative permeability is not.
Though there have been attempts to calculate relative permeability on theoretical grounds,
by far the most common source of them, has been experimental measurements. This implicates
that it is important to keep definitions of mobility, phase permeability and relative permeability
separate and clear.

Functions kj(Sj) depend both on the structure of the porous medium and on the saturation
distribution of the phases. However in mathematical modelling of two-phase and multi-phase
flowit is conventional to assume that relative permeabilities are the functions of saturation only.
This assumption considerably simplifies the task of laboratory experiments carried out in order
to determine relative permeabilities.
In the presence of two coexisting phases, the typical curves of relative permeability are as

shown in Fig.7.1.

Swc

Sw

Snc

kc

kw

1.0

1.0

0.0

0.0

Figure 7.1: Typical type of relative permeability characteristics for a
two-phase flow, where Sw is the wetting phase and Sn is
the non-wetting phase.

One important feature in the behaviour of the rel.perm.-curves should be emphasised. If
saturation of one of the phases becomes less than some definite value: Sw < Swc or Sn < Snc,
then the corresponding relative permeability for that phase becomes zero and the phase be-
comes immobile. This means that continuity of the phase is broken or disturbed and the phase

7.2 Rock Wettability and Relative Permeabilities

113

remains in a passive or loose state. The values Sjc, j = w, where n1

are defined as residual
saturation of the i-th phase. Let us note that those values depend on thermodynamic condition
of the reservoir (reservoir pressure, temperature, number of phases, type of rock, etc.).

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