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Chemistry and Technology of Fuels and Oils, Vol. 48, No. 3, July, 2012 (Russian Original No. 3, May-June, 2012)
ENHANCED OIL RECOVERY FROM HEAVY OIL RESERVOIRS UTILIZING
A DISPLACEMENT AGENT
Fusheng Zhang,
1
Jian Ouyang,
1
Xintong Ma,
2
Huaibin Zhang,
1
Dewei
Wang,
3
and Xinfang Feng
1
____________________________________________________________________________________________________
1
Oilfield Chemistry Key Laboratory, CNPC (Research Institute of Petroleum Exploration and evelopment,
PetroChina), 20 Xueyuan Road, Haidian District, Beijing 100083, China.
2
School of Chemical Engineering, East
China University of Science and Technology, Meilong Road 130, Shanghai 200237, China.
3
Jinzhou Oil Production,
Liaohe Oilfield Company, Petrochina, Liaoning Linghai 121209, China. Translated from Khimiya i Tekhnologiya
Topliv i Masel, No. 3, pp. 25 28, May June, 2012.
0009-3092/12/48030202 2012 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.
An oil displacement agent consisting of nonionic and anionic surfactants and emulsion stabilizers has
been developed to enhance oil recovery from heavy oil reservoirs. The experimental results show that
the proposed displacement agent enhances oil recovery by more than 20% compared with water flooding
and that the emulsion contained in the fluid produced can be easily broken (demulsified). The mechanism
of action for the displacement agent is described.
Key words: displacement agent, mechanism, oil recovery, viscosity, interfacial tension, wetting contact
angle.
Heavy-oil reserves represent on the order of 70% of total world oil reserves [1]. Onshore heavy-oil reserves
represent about 20% of all oil reserves in China. The high resin and asphaltene content in heavy oils is why they
have high viscosity and density, so considerable problems are encountered in recovery and transportation of
such oils. Injection of steam and light petroleum products into wells are methods used for recovery of heavy
oils [2]. However, these methods are not economical due to high consumption of fuel and light petroleum products
as well as huge thermal losses. Accordingly, it is not economically feasible to develop shallow heavy-oil deposits.
Development of shallow heavy-oil deposits by water flooding results in additional recovery of
only 5% to 10% of the initial oil-in-place [3]. The main reasons for low oil recovery by water flooding are:
the high viscosity of the oil, i.e., its low mobility, resulting in fingering; heavy oil is trapped in the pores
of the rock [4];
significant heterogeneity of the reservoir: the permeabilities of the upper and lower layers are markedly
different, and such differences also occur within a single layer.
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The combined effect of the indicated factors leads to pronounced fingering and reduced water flood
efficiency.
Viscosity reduction is important for recovery and transportation of heavy oils [5, 6]. But the effectiveness
of the viscosity-reducing reagent largely depends on the physical properties of the heavy oil, the formation
conditions, and the salinity of the water. So designing technologies for development of shallow heavy-oil deposits
is an important problem. Such new technologies will play a large role in improving oil recovery and reducing
production costs for heavy oils.
Oil recovery (E
R
) is defined as the ratio of total oil produced to initial oil-in-place. Oil recovery is calculated
using the equation:
E
R
= E
V
.E
D
,
where E
V
is the volumetric sweep efficiency; E
D
is the oil displacement efficiency.
We see that oil recovery can be enhanced by improving the volumetric sweep efficiency or the oil
displacement efficiency.
Determination of the mobility ratio between the displacement agent and the oil. An aqueous solution of
the displacement agent at a certain concentration was added to a sample of heavy oil with known water/oil weight
ratio. The mixture was stirred to form an oil-in-water emulsion. The viscosities of the emulsion and the heavy oil
were measured at 50C. The percentage decrease in the mobility ratio between the displacement agent and the oil
was calculated.
Measurement of interfacial tension. The interfacial tension between the oil and the water was measured
by a TX-500C spinning drop tensiometer (CNG, USA).
Measurement of wetting contact angle. The hydrophobic (oil-wet) surface was obtained by uniformly
applying paraffin to a glass surface. The wetting contact angle between the aqueous solution of displacement
agent and the hydrophobic surface was measured using an ODG20P instrument (Dataphysics, USA).
Oil displacement study. Heavy oil from a piston-type vessel was injected into the core until water no
longer flowed out from the other end of the core. The oil content in the core and the initial oil saturation of the core
were calculated. Then water was injected into the core, the liquid flowing out from the core was collected and the
volumes of the oil and aqueous phases in it were determined. When the water cut reached 98%, the experiment was
stopped and the oil recovery was calculated. After waterflooding, an aqueous solution of the displacement agent
was injected into the core, the liquid flowing out from the core was collected and the volumes of the oil and
aqueous phases in it were determined. When the water cut reached 98%, the experiment was stopped and the oil
recovery was calculated.
Breaking the emulsion (demulsification). The aqueous solution of the displacement agent and the heavy
oil were mixed in 3:7 weight ratio, and the mixture was stirred until an emulsion formed. The emulsion was broken
according to the method described in the Chinese Oil & Gas Industry standard SY/T5281-2000, Bottle experiment
method for determining demulsification performance of crude oil demulsifiers. 100 mg/L of polyether demulsifier
was added and the emulsion was allowed to stand for 1 hour at 60C. The emulsion dehydration rate was calculated.
The oi l cont ent i n t he wast e wat er was det er mi ned accor di ng t o t he Chi nese Oi l & Gas I ndust r y
standard SY/T0530-1993, Determination of oil content in oilfield waste water using a spectrophotometer.
Composition of the oil displacement agent. To enhance oil recovery from heavy-oil reservoirs, the
displacement agent should have the following properties:
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Indices
Content of displacement agent in water, mg/L
0 900 1000 2000 3000
Viscosity of emulsion, mPas 7510 2760 165 72 60
Mobility ratio between displacement agent and oil 7510 2760 165 72 60
Mobility ratio decrease, % 0 63.2 97.8 99.0 99.2

Table 1
promotes formation of an oil-in-water emulsion, resulting in reduced viscosity of the formation fluid, its
increased mobility and increased volumetric sweep efficiency;
reduces oilwater interfacial tension, so the capillary number and the oil displacement efficiency are
increased;
reduces the wetting contact angle between the displacement liquid and the sandstone surface, resulting
in the rock surface becoming hydrophilic (water-wet) and the capillary forces becoming the driving force for oil
displacement. Then the displacement efficiency increases considerably.
The displacement agent used in high-temperature and high-salinity reservoirs should have high thermal
stability and salt resistance. Nonionic surfactants are characterized by high salt resistance but poor thermal
stability; anionic surfactants, on the other hand, are distinguished by very good thermal stability but poor salt
resistance. As a result of studying the thermal stability and salt resistance of surfactants, we proposed a
displacement agent consisting of nonionic and anionic surfactants and an emulsion stabilizer.
Effect of the oil-displacement agent on improvement of oil mobility. The volumetric sweep efficiency E
V
is
the ratio of the volume of the oil layer displaced by the water to the volume of the entire oil layer. E
v
is determined
from the equation:
E
v
= k/M,
where k is a constant; M is the mobility ratio between the displacement agent and the oil.
We see that the volumetric sweep efficiency is inversely proportional to the mobility ratio between the
displacement agent and the oil, which is reduced as the viscosity ratio between the displaced fluid and the
displacing fluid decreases [7]. Thus the volumetric sweep efficiency can be increased by reducing the viscosity of
the heavy oil.
The viscosity of an emulsion is expressed by the equation [8]:


l
e
0

where m is the viscosity of the emulsion;


0
is the viscosity of the dispersion medium (the external phase); j is the
volume percent (vol.%) of the dispersed phase (the internal phase) in the emulsion; l is a constant.
The viscosity of water is significantly lower than the viscosity of oil, so the viscosity of an oil-in-water
emulsion is much lower than the viscosity of oil. The viscosity of the emulsion increases exponentially with an
increase in the oil content (the dispersed phase). Thus as a result of formation of an emulsion, the viscosity of the
fluid to be displaced is significantly reduced, the mobility ratio between the displacement agent and the fluid to be
displaced is reduced, while the volumetric sweep efficiency is increased. In order to determine the mobility ratio
between the displacement agent and the oil, an aqueous solution of the displacement agent was mixed with heavy
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Table 2
Indices
Content of displacement agent in water, mg/L
0 0.2 0. 3 0.5 0.8
Interfacial tension, mN/m 25.0 1.51 1. 35 1.08 0.60
Capillary number increase, % - 16.6 18.5 23.1 41. 7
Wetting contact angle, degrees 105.7 85.2 66.8 59.2 58. 8

oil in 3:7 ratio, stirred until an emulsion formed, and the viscosity was measured at 50C. The experimental results
are given in Table 1.
A stable emulsion cannot be formed for a concentration of the displacement agent in water less than 1000
mg/L. From Table 1, we see that the percentage decrease in the mobility ratio for this concentration of displacement
agent is greater than 97%.
Effect of the displacement agent on the oil displacement efficiency. The oil displacement efficiency is
defined as the ratio of the volume of oil produced by flooding to the total volume of oil. The oil displacement
efficiency can be improved by reducing the interfacial tension and accordingly increasing the capillary
number [9], and also by decreasing the contact angle for wetting of the rock surface by water, i.e., by changing the
wettability of the rock surface [10].
The capillary number N
c
is the ratio of the driving force for oil displacement to the resistance force, and is
calculated using the formula:
wo w c
N /
where is the displacement rate;
w
is the viscosity of the displacing fluid;
wo
is the interfacial tension between
the oil and the water.
An increase in the capillary number improves the oil displacement efficiency. The main method used to
increase the capillary number is to reduce the interfacial tension. Table 2 gives the values of the interfacial tension
between aqueous solutions of the displacement agent and the oil. We see that with an increase in the concentration
of the displacement agent, the interfacial tension significantly decreases, meaning an increase in the capillary
number and the oil displacement efficiency.
The capillary force P
c
is expressed by the equation:
r P
c
/ cos 2
where is the interfacial tension between the oil and the water; is the contact angle for wetting of the rock
surface by water; r is the capillary radius.
The oil displacement efficiency is closely connected with the wettability of the rock surface: a hydrophilic
(water-wet) surface results in higher displacement efficiency than a hydrophobic (oil-wet) surface. With a
hydrophobic rock surface, the capillary force is the force resisting displacement of the oil. Water flooding mainly
displaces oil from large pores, while residual oil is localized in small pores and on the pore walls. With a hydrophilic
rock surface, water is adsorbed on the surface of the pores in the rock, forming a film, and then oil cannot be
adsorbed. As a result, the residual oil is localized at the center of the large pores as droplets. In this case, the
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Table 3
Content of
displacement agent
in water, mg/L
Core parameters Oil recovery (%) with flooding
porosity, % permeability, mD water flood
flooding by solution
of displacement agent
(after water flood)
0.1 27.11 1965 26.38 22.88
0.3 27.14 1570 26.56 26.45
0.5 27.16 1854 28.03 26.70
Table 4
Indices
Content of displacement agent in water, mg/L
0 100 200 500 1000
Dehydration rate, % 98.4 99.1 98.1 98.2 97.5
Oil content in waste water, mg/L 350 365 375 356 353

capillary force is the driving force for oil displacement, and so the residual oil is displaced from the small pores and
pore walls.
Table 2 gives the values of the wetting contact angle between aqueous solutions of the displacement
agent and a hydrophobic (oil-wet) surface. We see that the displacement agent decreases the contact angle
between the water and the hydrophobic surface from 105.7 down to less than 60. This means that the nature of
the surface has changed: it has become hydrophilic (water-wet). Even for a 0.5% concentration of the displacement
agent, the capillary force enables displacement of the oil.
Estimate of the oil displacement efficiency. In the core flooding experiments, we used water with total
salinity 20 693.75 mg/L, including 734.59 mg/L Ca
2+
ions and 70.79 mg/L Mg
2+
ions. Table 3 shows the results of an
estimate of the oil displacement efficiency. The core was 10 cm long with diameter 2.43 cm. Oil recovery by water
flooding was 26%-28%. After water flooding, the solution of displacement agent was injected into the core,
resulting in more than 20% additional oil recovery.
Effect of the displacement agent on the emulsion breaking process (demulsification). The emulsion
containing the displacement agent should have a certain stability. Unstable emulsions readily break in the formation,
and the viscosity of the fluid to be displaced increases. This results in the need for restarting wells and may also
lead even to well blockage. If the stability of the emulsion is too high, problems arise in breaking the emulsion
(demulsification). A large amount of the displacement agent is adsorbed on the surface of the sandstone during oil
displacement, and so the concentration of the displacement agent in the produced fluid is much lower than in the
injected solution.
Table 4 gives the results for dehydration of the produced fluid containing displacement agent. We see
that the emulsion containing displacement agent can be easily broken using the polyether demulsifier which is
widely used in preparation of the crude oil in oil fields. The high dehydration rate and the less than 400 mg/L oil
content in the waste water mean that the displacement agent does not have a negative effect on the emulsion
breaking process (demulsification).
From the results of our work, we can draw the following conclusions:
the displacement agent promotes formation of an emulsion, and as a result the viscosity of the fluid to be
displaced is significantly reduced while the volumetric sweep efficiency is improved;
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the displacement agent reduces the interfacial tension between the oil and the water, which leads to an
increase in the capillary number and the oil displacement efficiency;
in the presence of the displacement agent, the wetting contact angle decreases, the rock surface becomes
hydrophilic (water-wet), and the capillary forces promote displacement of oil from pores, which results in improved
oil displacement efficiency;
flooding with a solution of the displacement agent improves oil recovery by more than 20% compared
with water flooding;
the emulsion produced using the displacement agent is easily broken using a polyether demulsifier.
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