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ENHANCED OIL RECOVERY BY WATER ALTERNATING

GAS (WAG) INJECTION

D. H. TEHRANI, A. DANESH, M. SOHRABI AND


G. HENDERSON
Department of Petroleum Engineering, Heriot-Watt University
Edinburgh, UK

Abstract
Normally, a significant quantity of oil remains in an oil reservoir after waterflooding. Some
of this oil may be economically produced by WAG injection, an EOR method, which has
been successfully used in some reservoirs. However, the physical processes underlying the
complex three-phase flow in WAG has not been well understood. There is a need for
developing accurate three-phase capillary pressure and relative permeability functions, so
that a reliable reservoir performance prediction can be made, before undertaking the
relatively large investment for WAG. At Heriot-Watt U. we have an integrated experimental
(micromodel) and theoretical (network modelling) programme of research to develop a
simulator which can calculate the above mentioned functions. In this presentation the author
will show videotape of the WAG process, taking place in the porous media of a micromodel.
It will allow the audience to see how the fluids actually flow and displace each other and the
important role which capillary pressure plays. Some results of the research will also be
presented.

Introduction
Waterflooding, gas injection and water-alternating-gas injection (WAG) are well-established
methods for improving oil recovery. In reservoirs that have been waterflooded, it is still
possible to recover a significant part of the remaining oil by injecting gas alternately with
water. Gas can occupy part of the pore space that otherwise would be occupied by oil,
thereby mobilising the remaining oil. Water, injected subsequently, will displace some of the
remaining oil and gas, further reducing the residual oil saturation. Repetition of the WAG
injection process can further improve the recovery of oil. Christensen, Stenby and Skauge 1
recently reported an excellent review of some sixty field-applications of WAG.
Several
2
3
field trials have been reported as being successful, e.g., in Kuparuk , Snorre and Gulfaks
fields 4. Both immiscible 4-6 and miscible gases7 have been used. A very large number of
coreflood experiments8-12 and analytical and numerical simulations11,14 have been carried out.
A recent study has even considered the WAG process for improving the hydrocarbon
recovery in gas/condensate reservoirs13. Most of the research work, conducted so far, has
been on either core flooding8,9,10 or numerical simulation11,12 , sometimes alongside field
trials. The relationship between the injection gas/water ratio and oil recovery has been
empirically investigated using core displacement experiments, often at low pressure and
generally with water wet cores8,10. Micromodels were used as early as 1960 for fluid
displacement studies15. Some low -pressure micromodel studies of three-phase displacement

have also been performed16,17. However, as far as we know, no micromodel visualisation of


the WAG injection has been carried out to directly observe the physical processes taking
place in the porous media, using live oil, live water in equilibrium with injection gas and
models with different wettability. Larsen et al.18 reported some limited results of their WAG
micromodel studies.
To do reservoir development planning, for possible implementation of a WAG scheme, the
operator needs reliable performance and hydrocarbon recovery prediction, needed for
accurate economic evaluation. To achieve this, good simulation incorporating proper
reservoir fluid and rock description is needed. This requires accurate sets of relative
permeability and capillary pressure functions for each fluid phase, in a three-phase fluid flow
regime. The WAG process also involves another major complication. In each cycle of water
injection the process is of an imbibition type, whereas as soon as gas injection begins the
process will switch to the drainage flow. Therefore, the hysteresis effects have to be
accounted for, also. But it is impractical to measure these functions and their hysteresis
effects for all the different rock types and fluids present in a reservoir and describe them in
terms of IFT which, itself is a function of fluid composition and pressure. We are attempting
to develop a 3-phase 3-D mathematical network simulator, which has in it all the significant
physical flow processes involved in WAG injection, formulated as accurately as possible.
But to gain confidence that such a simulator can indeed reflect the physics of the flow
realistically, we test it against a series of WAG experiments performed using micromodels.
We can conduct the actual WAG injection, observe and record the flow processes and
measure the model fluid saturations and recoveries. To enable us to magnify and view the
pore scale images and to analyse the fluid flow, we have had to use 2-D glass micromodels
and to use model fluids with known properties. Although the results will not be directly
applicable to real reservoirs, they can be used to verify the accuracy of the predictions made
by our network model simulator. We will run the pore scale simulator to predict the fluid
distributions and the recoveries for a given set of pore geometry, wettability and fluid
properties. If these agree with those observed and measured in the micromodel, we shall
then have enough confidence, to operate it with real reservoir fluids and rock properties in 3D mode, to calculate the required pore scale relative permeability and capillary pressure
functions. These will later be upscaled for use in the numerical reservoir scale simulation.

Objective
The objective of the current micromodel studies is to improve our understanding of the
physical principles underlying such processes taking place in porous media and to develop a
network model simulator that can produce complex three-phase relative permeability and
capillary pressure functions. Observing and recording the fluid flow behaviour within the
micromodel during the WAG injection process will help to achieve this. The video record of
the fluid displacements will be used to obtain qualitative and quantitative information on
three-phase fluid flow during WAG injection. These will then be used to compare with the
results of the network model, which will attempt to simulate the same processes, using the
micromodel fluids and geometrical data. If the simulated results match the pictures and the
recovery data obtained by the experiments reasonably well, then it can be confidently used to
simulate and obtain the three-phase relative permeability and capillary pressure functions,
using realistic reservoir rock and fluid properties in three-dimensional space.

Experimental Facilities
These have been described in our previous paper 19.

Test Fluids
The equilibrated fluids used in the experiments consisted of distilled water, n-decane and
methane. To distinguish between the liquid hydrocarbon and the aqueous phase, the colour
of the n-decane was changed to red using a hydrocarbon soluble dye (Sudan Red), and
similarly, the colour of the water was changed to blue using a water soluble dye (Methyl
Blue). Both the blue water and the red n-decane were filtered using fine filter papers to
remove any undesolved dye particles.
Fluid Preparation - Filtered blue water and methane were brought into equilibrium at the
desired pressure and temperature. The same procedure was followed for the equilibration of
gas and oil. The solubility of oil in water was considered to be negligible (at 500 psia and
100 oF).
Fluid Interfacial Tensions: The equilibrium IFT of the water, n-decane, methane system at
500 psia and 100 F, were estimated as follows:

Gas/Oil20 (go)
Gas/Water 21(gw)
Oil/Water21( ow)

Interfacial
Tension/mNm-1
15
65
41

S o/w.g = Spreading Coefficient of oil over water = gw-( go+ ow)=+ 9 mNm-1.
The positive value of the spreading coefficient indicates that there will always be a film, or a
layer, of oil spread between gas and water. The resolution of the images does not permit the
viewing of the thin oil films, which can be on the order of one nanometer across22.

Test Procedure
The following procedure was followed for all the tests reported. Initially, the micromodel
was saturated with clear distilled water and pressurised to 500 psia and subsequently
displaced with blue live water, equilibrated with gas at 500 psia and 100 oF. To simulate the
primary drainage of water (initial migration of oil into the water bearing porous medium)
equilibrated oil (red n-decane), was injected from the top of the vertical micromodel, and
injection continued until oil reached the base of the micromodel. To avoid oil getting into
the lower pipes containing the water and gas phases, the oil flood was stopped at the bottom
of the micromodel. Fig . 1 shows an example of a section of the micromodel when 100%
saturated with equilibrated blue water, with Fig. 2 showing the irreducible water saturation
established after oil injection, at the prevailing flow rate. In both cases the micromodel was
scanned vertically in 10 separate sections. In these Figures, and throughout this paper, only
the images of the middle section are presented, although the images of the entire micromodel
were used for saturation and recovery calculations.

As soon as oil injection was stopped at the bottom of the micromodel, a spontaneous
imbibition of water into the micromodel was observed. The volume of the imbibed water
was, however, very small. The model was then waterflooded at a low rate of 0.01 cm3/h from
the base to establish the waterflood residual oil saturation (Sorw). This rate corresponds to a
capillary number of 2.5E-7, using single-phase flow area, and 5.0E-7 for two-phase flow
area. The magnitude of capillary number indicates a capillary dominated flow regime, which
is consistent with the observations. Water was observed to flow mostly through the sharp
corners of the pores (as can be visualised in the corners of a square tube). This will be
referred to as corner filament flow. The water filaments were seen to thicken progressively
leaving oil filaments in the middle of pore bodies and finally causing oil snap off at some
pore throats. The fluid distribution in the micromodel at the end of water flooding is shown
in Fig. 3. The entire flow process was recorded on video, and still pictures of the final fluid
distributions were taken digitally and stored in computer.
Fig. 4 is a magnified image of a section of the micromodel at the end of primary drainage of
water (oil injection through water saturated micromodel), which demonstrates the relative
position of the wetting phase (blue water) and non-wetting phase (red oil), in a strongly
water-wet micromodel. The small pores and the dead-end pores are mostly occupied by
water. The direction and the shape of the water-oil interfaces are good indication of strongly
water-wet conditions. Fig. 5 shows a magnified image of the same section of the
micromodel at the end of the waterflood. Comparison of Figs 4 and 5 highlights the fact
that during waterflooding oil was displaced by corner filament flow of water rather than by a
piston-like displacement. The slow thickening of water filaments at the sides and corners of
oil filled pores during waterflooding was a consequence of a capillary dominated flow
regime. Waterflooding of an oil-wet micromodel (not presented in detail here) showed the
opposite, i.e., water flowed through the pores in piston-like displacement.
Each WAG cycle begins with gas injection and ends with water injection. Five cycles of
WAG injection were conducted. In each cycle, the injection of gas or water continued until
no further oil production or change in fluid distribution occurred.
To distinguish the
colourless gas from the colourless glass (resembling grains in a natural porous medium), gas
was digitally coloured in yellow, using an image analysis computer program. Fig. 6 shows
the fluid distribution in the micromodel after the first cycle of gas injection, with the blue, red
and yellow colours representing water, oil and gas respectively. Due to the relatively low
interfacial tension between gas and oil (15 mNm-1) and adverse viscosity ratio (0.017), gas
has channelled mainly through the oil occupied pores of the micromodel. At the end of gas
injection, water injection commenced again at the same rate of 0.01 cm3/h (velocity of ~ 1.2
m/d). During water injection, corner flow of water resulted in water filaments surrounding
the gas occupied pores and thickening, until the gas blobs became unstable and finally
collapsed. The snap-off of the gas phase occurs as a result of capillary competition between
the different phases. Fig. 7 shows the fluid distribution in the micromodel at the end of the
water injection period of the first cycle. The fragmentation of the gas blobs is clearly
observed.
Fig. 8 shows the fluid distribution in the model after the second gas injection, and
comparison with Fig. 6, reveals that more pores have been invaded by gas. Fig. 9 shows the
micromodel after water injection period of the second cycle, and water has again resulted in
further gas snap-off and fluid redistribution. Alternating gas and water injection continued
until five cycles were completed.
Figs. 10 and 11, show the results of the fifth WAG cycle. A sequence of events similar to the
previous WAG cycles occurred. Comparison of Fig. 11 with Fig. 6 shows that more gas has
been trapped and more oil has been recovered.
Fig. 12 depicts the recovery of oil during the test with the vertical axis showing the amount
of oil recovered, at each stage of the experiment, as percentage of the initial waterflood

residual oil. This Figure shows that the majority of the additional oil (some 14%) is
recovered during the first two cycles and as the result of five cycles of alternating injection of
gas and water a total of 15% of the remaining oil, after water flooding, has been produced.

Discussion
During the initial waterflood, as water was the wetting phase and the rate of water injection
was well within capillary dominated regime, water flowed in the corners of the pores in the
form of filaments surrounding the oil present in the larger pore bodies. These water filaments
were seen to thicken progressively leaving oil filaments in the middle of pores and finally
causing oil snap off at some pore throats28. Fig. 13 shows how the wetting phase can imbibe
in the sharp corners of a square tube. The micromodel pores, etched by hydrofluoric acid on
a glass, are not exactly in square shape, but they do have some sharp corners in which the
wetting phase can advance. The oil recovery by waterflood occurred as the result of this
corner filament flow of water rather than by piston-like displacement.
As the IFT between gas and oil is less than the IFT between gas and water, when gas is
encounters the pores of equal radii, it prefers entering those filled with oil rather than water.
The invasion of oil filled pores by gas causes a small bank of oil to move ahead of gas front.
The oil flowing ahead of the gas is added to the oil already present in those pores, resulting in
an improvement in the oil mobility. The oil recovery by initial gas injection, however, is
very small, in the order of 6% of the water flood residual oil. During the subsequent water
injection, water invades the gas filled pores. Consequently, the gas channels are observed to
become narrower as the water filaments grow, and finally the gas becomes fragmented by
snapping off which takes place at some pore throats.
After switching from water injection to gas injection, some more pores are invaded by gas.
Thus the fluid distribution in the micromodel for this second cycle of gas injection is
different from that of the first cycle. This is also observed for the first and second cycles of
water injection. Comparison of Figs. 6 to 11 shows that the fluid distribution within the
micromodel changes each time a new fluid is injected. However, further change in fluid
distribution diminishes as the WAG injection proceeds. After the third WAG cycle no
significant change of fluid distribution is observed within the micromodel.
Fig. 12 depicts the recovery of additional oil after waterflooding, attributable to WAG
injection. The initial oil saturation, Soi was 47% of the pore volume and the residual oil
saturation (Sorw) at the end of initial waterflood in this experiment was 25% PV, i.e., 53% of
initial oil in place. Five cycles of WAG injection produced 21.7% of that remaining oil,
which is 11.5% of initial oil in place. The extra oil recovered after two cycles of WAG was
18.8% of S orw, which is 10% of initial oil in place. This shows that the majority of the
benefit of WAG injection has come after the first two cycles.
It should, however, be remembered that these are the results of an experiment carried out
with a 2-D water-wet micromodel.
The figures are not directly applicable to real field
conditions, but can be used to verify the validity of the network simulator, when it is also run
with a 2-D water-wet system. Relative permeability functions applicable to real field
conditions will be obtained later, using the verified network simulator in 3-D and 3-Phase
mode with realistic rock and fluid data.

Conclusions
The results of the reported experiment, which was performed in strongly water-wet glass
micromodel, can be summarised as follows:
1.
During the initial waterflood, water advances in pores by the process of corner
filament flow. The water filaments, that surround the oil present in the larger pore bodies,

thicken progressively and leave oil filaments in the middle of pores and finally cause oil snap
off at the pore throats. Consequently, during water flooding oil production is controlled by
filament flow rather than by piston-like displacement, at the pore level.
2.
The positive spreading coefficient, in the reported experiment, results in a layer and
or a film of oil to be always present between gas and water, in pores that contain all three
phases. During gas injection, when gas encounters pores of equal radii, it preferentially
enters the oil filled pores, because gas has lower IFT with oil than it has with water. The
invasion of oil filled pores by gas causes a small bank of oil to move ahead of gas front
causing an increase in local oil saturation in some patches of pores. This in turn increases the
mobility of oil in those pores and eventually results in improved oil recovery.
3.
During the subsequent water injection, gas channels become narrower as the water
filaments grow in thickness, and finally due to the interplay of capillary forces and local gas
pressure fluctuations, gas blobs snap off at many of the pore throats and become fragmented.
4.
By injecting gas and water alternately more oil can be produced than would otherwise
be produced by water or gas injection alone.
5.
The major portion of the improved oil recovery is obtained only after a few cycles of
WAG injection. In the reported experiment (water-wet system) this occurred after the second
cycle.(Fig. 12)

Nomenclature
IFT = = interfacial tension, mNm-1
Sorw = residual oil saturation to waterflood
Sori = residual oil saturation after cycle i
S o/w.g = spreading coefficient of oil over water, in presence of gas and a water wet solid
surface, mNm-1

Acknowledgements
The WAG project at Heriot-Watt U. is equally sponsored by: The UK Department of Trade
and Industry, BP Amoco plc, Marathon International (GB) Ltd, Mobil (North Sea) Ltd,
Norsk Hydro a.s.a, SAGA Petroleum a.s.a, and Total Oil Marine plc, and this support is
gratefully acknowledged.

References
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Fig. 1-100% water


saturated model

Fig. 4-Water/oil distribution


before waterflood

Fig. 2-Primary drainage of


water (initial OIP)

Fig. 3-After waterflood

Fig. 5-Water/oil distribution


after waterflood

Fig. 6 -After first cycle of


gas injection

Fig. 7-After first cycle of


water injection.

Fig. 8 After seco nd cycle of


gas injection.

Fig. 9 - After 2nd cycle of


water injection.

Fig. 10-After fifth cycle of


gas injection.

Fig. 11-After fifth cycle of


water injection

25

Oil Recovery, %Sorw

20

15

10

5 water

5 gas

4 water

4 gas

3 water

3 gas

2 water

2 gas

1 water

1 gas

waterflood

Fig. 12-Oil recovery at each stage of the experiment as percentage of initial waterflood
trapped oil

(c)

(d)

(a)

(b)

Fig. 13 - Corner Filament Flow in a Square


Water-Wet Tube. (a) Profile along the
diagonal line. (b) Profile along the middle
of the tube parallel with sides. (c) Water in
the corners on top of the tube. (d) Water in
the corners on top of the water column.