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Fluid flow in porous media : facts



This text is meant to provide a quick overview of some useful facts about parameters that play a
role in displacement processes. The following items will be reviewed: wettability, permeability,
relative permeability, capillary pressure, end-point mobility ratio and shock-front mobility ratio. In
addition, capillary and Bond number, and the spreading coefficient will be shortly reviewed. For a
detailed discussion, the interested reader is referred to standard textbooks like Fundamentals of
Reservoir Engineering by Dake [1] and references therein.


Wettability describes the relative preference of a rock to be covered by a certain phase. Rock is
defined to be water-wet if the rock has (much) more affinity for water than for oil. In that case, a
major part of the rock surface in the pores will be covered with a water layer. Clearly, wettability
will be affected by the minerals present in the pores. Clean sandstone or quartz is extremely
water-wet, but sandstone reservoir rock is usually found to be intermediate-wet. Intermediate
wettability means that some pores are water wet and other pores are oil wet. Carbonates are
believed to be more oil-wet than clastics: a major part of the rock surface in the pores is then
covered with oil. It should be stressed that in practice extreme water-wetness or extreme
oil-wetness is rare. Only for gas-liquid systems, one can safely assume that gas is always the
non-wetting phase.
Basic reservoir properties like relative permeability, capillary pressure and resistivity depend
strongly on wettability. It is therefore important that laboratory experiments in which these
properties are measured are carried out on samples whose wettability is representative of the
reservoir from which they are taken. Since no well-established techniques exist at present for
downhole measurement of the wettability of reservoir material, it is not possible to state
categorically whether a certain wettability is representative in a given case. In the laboratory,
wettability is characterised usually by the so called Amott and USBM indices. These indices are
derived from capillary pressure measurements, further discussed below.

Residual saturations

As mentioned above, in an extremely water-wet rock, the surface is covered with water. In that
case oil (or gas) will be located in the centre of the pores. In the laboratory, when water-filled
water-wet rock is brought to irreducible or connate water saturation (Scw) by oil flooding, this
water will remain a continuous phase covering the pore walls. Therefore, in theory, by ongoing oil
flooding of a perfect water-wet rock it is possible to "scratch-out" the last bit of water, albeit at
infinitely long displacement time, so that Scw=0 for a perfect water-wet system. Consequently, for
reservoir rock, a general feature of water-wetness is that Scw is low, say 10% or so of the pore
space. During a subsequent water-drive to produce the oil, a significant amount of oil eventually
will remain capillary trapped, floating as disconnected blobs in the centre of the pores. The
residual oil saturation Sor is determined by the topology of the pore space and is usually higher
than Scw: around 30% and up. In an oil-wet system, water and oil can be thought to exchange
places when compared with a water-wet system. Therefore, in oil-wet rock, the residual oil

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Fluid flow in porous media : facts

saturation Sor is low, about 10% of the pore space, and Scw will be higher. As is demonstrated by
the simulations, in the laboratory it is difficult to attain connate water and residual oil saturations
in actual experiments. In practice, only remaining saturations are reached, due to a capillary
end-effect or due to an extremely small mobility of the displaced phase.

Capillary pressure

Capillary pressure pc is defined as the pressure difference between the non-wetting phase and the
wetting phase as a function of the (wetting phase) saturation. For oil/water systems in porous rock,
oil is in general considered to be the least wetting phase. Therefore, we will define the capillary
pressure as:

In reservoir engineering, pc is an important parameter for simulation studies (in particular for
heterogeneous systems). In most studies, the inflow of water needs to be modelled, so particularly
the imbibition capillary pressure is of importance. Note that an Hg-air measurement will result in
the primary drainage curve and that this data is only used in the initialisation of a simulation

Figure 1 Full capillary pressure curve; 1st drainage, 1st imbibition and 2nd drainage.

Fig. 1 shows a typical capillary pressure curve for a water-oil system in a porous rock. The capillary
pressure curve consists of three branches: a primary drainage, a primary imbibition and a second
drainage branch. Below we will discuss these branches in some detail.


At Sw=1, the start of the 1st drainage, an "entrance" pressure needs to be exceeded before oil can
enter the sample. Then a plateau is reached. At decreasing water saturations, the capillary pressure
rises to very high values. This means that when oil is injected into this system, an ever higher
injection pressure is required to force the next bit of water out. The capillary pressure goes to

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Fluid flow in porous media : facts

infinity at the connate water saturation Scw (Fig. 1).


When the oil pressure is slowly decreased, water will spontaneously imbibe and the saturation will
increase. The capillary pressure decreases, and is in general smaller than the drainage capillary
pressure for the same saturation, an effect called capillary hysteresis. When the oil pressure is equal
to the water pressure (pc=0), the saturation reaches the spontaneous water imbibition saturation
Sspw. Increasing the saturation from this point can only be accomplished by forcing the water in,
hence by increasing the water pressure above the oil pressure. By definition, the capillary pressure
becomes negative (Eq. 1). An ever higher water pressure is required to force the next bit of oil out,
until the residual oil saturation Sor has been reached. Note that pc goes to minus infinity at water
saturations near Sw=1-Sor (Fig. 1). In conclusion, a negative capillary pressure means nothing else
than that a larger water injection pressure than the oil-phase pressure has to be applied to remove
oil from the sample (see Eq. 1).

2-nd Drainage

When the water pressure is slowly decreased, oil will spontaneously imbibe and the saturation will
decrease. The capillary pressure increases, and will in general be larger than the imbibition
capillary pressure for the same saturation, as a result of the capillary hysteresis. At pc=0 the
capillary pressure curve crosses the spontaneous oil imbibition saturation Sspo. Increasing the oil
pressure (and thus pc), leads to a decrease of the water saturation (forced drainage). Around Scw
the capillary pressure becomes infinitely large.


As already discussed above, wettability determines the distribution of oil and water in the porous
rock, and directly affects parameters like connate water and residual oil saturation. Obviously, the
capillary pressure also depends strongly on the wettability. In the extreme water-wet situation, the
drainage as well as the imbibition capillary pressure are positive over the whole saturation range
from Scw (small) to Sor (large). Water will spontaneously imbibe from Scw to 1-Sor. A kind of
inverse situation holds for an extremely oil-wet system; the drainage as well as the imbibition
capillary pressure are negative. In addition a small Sor and a large Scw are typical. Here, oil will
spontaneously imbibe from Sor to 1-Scw.
As already mentioned above, extreme water or oil wetness is rare. Most reservoir rock is
intermediate wet, with Scw and Sor roughly equal. For the intermediate-wet case, the spontaneous
imbibition saturation for water Sspw and oil Sspo (where pc=0) lie somewhere in between Scw and
In line with conventional definitions, we will denote by imbibition: increasing water saturation;
and by drainage: decreasing water saturation, irrespective of the wettability.
Note that normally for imbibition UnSteady State experiments, water is injected at the bottom of
the plug, while for drainage the oil is injected from the top to ensure gravity stable displacement in
vertical plugs. SCORES chooses injected phase and inflow face automatically, based on the choice
for imbibition or drainage.

Wettability indices

The direct effect of wettability on capillary pressure has prompted several investigators to define a

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Fluid flow in porous media : facts

wettability number. We will discuss here the Amott index and the USBM index, the two mostly
used indices. However, it should be stressed that (i) these numbers capture only part of the shape
of the curves and (ii) for the description of displacement processes, the complete relative
permeability and capillary pressure curves are required, instead of a single wettability index.
Wettability indices may give only an (incomplete) wettability characterisation of rock, but still can
be useful in the design of correlations.

Figure 2 Imbibition and drainage capillary pressure curve, required to determine the Amott and USBM
wettability indices.

The Amott index is based on the amount of spontaneous imbibition of a certain phase. For water,
the Amott index Iw is defined as (see Fig. 2) :


Similarly, the Amott index for oil Io is defined as:


For an extremely water-wet system Io will be zero, while for an oil-wet system Iw equals zero.
Clearly, the shape of the capillary pressure curve is not taken into account in the Amott index. A
more "complete" wettability number is represented by the USBM number, which is defined as (see
Fig. 2):

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For an extremely water-wet system U is very large and positive, for an intermediate-wet U lies
around zero and for an extremely oil-wet system U will be very large and negative. Finally, it
should be mentioned that the USBM number defined above is usually referred to as the "modified"
USBM index. The "standard" USBM index is calculated in an identical way from raw centrifuge
capillary pressure data, using the average saturation instead of that at the inflow end. However,
the raw data need considerable correction (saturation shift) before one arrives at a more truthful
representation of pc.


For modelling and correlation purposes the capillary pressure can be described by a dimensionless
so called Leverett-J function:


with the interfacial tension between the two phases and the porosity of the rock.


Permeability is the single-phase fluid conductivity of a porous material. The equation that defines
permeability in terms of measurable quantities is Darcy's law. Consider an incompressible fluid,
with viscosity , which is forced to flow, at flow rate q, through a porous medium, of length L and
with cross section A, such that the pressure difference across the length of the porous medium is
P. Then the permeability K of the material is defined as:


The value of the permeability is determined by the structure of the porous rock. A tight rock, with
small pore diameter will have in general a smaller permeability than a coarse rock with larger
pores. From Eq. 5 it is seen that K has dimensions of length squared. The unit most widely
employed for the permeability is the Darcy (D); 1 D (1 m)2 = 10-12 m2.

Relative permeability

In case of two or more fluids flowing simultaneously through a porous medium, a relative
permeability for each of the fluids can be defined. It describes the extent to which one fluid is
hindered by the other. The relative permeability is defined by setting-up the Darcy equation
individually for each phase i that flows in the pore space:

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with qi being the flow rate of phase i, kri the relative permeability of phase i, i the viscosity of
phase i and pi the pressure drop within phase i. The term in brackets is denoted the "mobility" of
phase i.
In the industry, several different definitions are in use for the normalisation of kr: the most
common being that kriK represents the total permeability of phase i. This is the definition used in
the Shell Group outside the USA. An other definition relates the phase permeability of each phase
to the respective end-point permeability: kro is normalised to kro at connate water saturation
(kro,cw=kro(Scw)) and krw to krw,or (=krw(Sor)). Finally, a definition exists in which both the wetting
and the non-wetting phase relative permeability are normalised to kro,cw.
The usual assumption is that kri is a function of the saturation of phase i and constitutes a rock
property (i.e. kri is independent of the fluids used, except for a characterisation of wetting vs.
non-wetting). It turns out that for two-phase systems with a normal interfacial tension ( 10
mN/m or more), this is a good approximation.


As discussed above, the wetting phase covers the walls of the pores and will flow along the walls
through a more-or-less thin liquid "sheet". A non-wetting phase flows in the centre of the pore
space, as a flowing tubular, not touching the walls. For that reason, the relative permeability of the
wetting phase at residual non-wetting phase saturation is much smaller than the relative
permeability of the non-wetting phase at the irreducible wetting-phase saturation. The typical
shapes of the relative permeabilities for water-wet, oil-wet and intermediate-wet systems are
shown in Fig. 3.

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Figure 3 Typical shapes of the oil and water relative permeability for water-wet, intermediate-wet and oil-wet

A well-known model of the water and oil relative permeability functions is the Corey-exponent


with krw,or and kro,cw the end-point relative permeabilities, and nw and no the so called Corey
exponents for water and oil respectively. For a water-wet system, the oil relative permeability is
characterised by a residual oil saturation Sor of 30 % or higher, a Corey exponent no around 2 - 3
and an end-point relative permeability kro,cw around 0.6 - 0.8. The corresponding water relative
permeability is characterised by a connate water saturation Scw of some 10 %, a Corey exponent nw
around 4 - 6 and an end-point relative permeability krw,or around 0.1 - 0.4. For an oil-wet system
water and oil exchange places. For the intermediate-wet case we expect both Scw and Sor to be
around 20 %, no and nw to be around 3-5 and the end-points kro,cw and krw,or around 0.5 (Fig. 3).

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Fluid flow in porous media : facts

Mobility ratios

When water displaces a high viscosity oil, frontal instabilities may be initiated by heterogeneities
in the porous medium. In general, unstable displacement will result in the formation of so called
viscous fingers. At present, no techniques are available, which allow the interpretation of unstable
data. Therefore, in laboratory experiments, viscous fingering is undesirable. For a proper
measurement of the relative permeabilities ("rock curves"), fingering should be avoided. Initially,
the risk towards fingering was assessed by evaluating the so called end-point mobility ratio M:


with water being injected and oil being displaced. In Eq. 8, the relative permeabilities are taken at
the end-point values (assuming that far away from the displacement front the fluids are at their
end-point saturations, see Fig. 4).

Figure 4 Saturation profile in a de-saturated core plug flooded by water.

Instability was expected at M>1. Later Hagoort [2] argued that this criterion is too restrictive and
should be replaced by the so called shock-front mobility ratio Ms:


Sf being the shock-front saturation (see [1]). Note that this expression represents the ratio of the
total mobility just up-stream of the shock-front over the mobility down-stream of the shock-front.

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Instability, and hence viscous fingering, is now expected at Ms>1. It is of interest to note that it is
quite possible to have Ms<1 at M 50 !

Bond and capillary number

Multi-phase flow through porous media is governed by the interplay between capillary, viscous
and gravitational forces. The flow regime can be characterised by the capillary number Nc and the
Bond number Nb, which we define as:




These numbers are dimensionless measures for the ratio of - viscous and capillary - and -
gravitational and capillary - forces at the pore scale, respectively. Our definition of the capillary
number Nc deviates from some formulations found in literature, yet assures that absolute
numerical values of Nc and Nb are compatible (see [3] for an extensive discussion on capillary and
Bond number).
Capillary forces usually dominate in reservoir flow. Therefore, although the actual flow is driven
by viscous or gravitational forces, the flow paths at the pore scale are determined by the capillary
forces. With increasing Nc or Nb, the viscous/gravitational forces may become comparable to the
capillary forces at the pore scale. Flow paths may alter and thus the relative permeability. This
change in flow dynamics is reflected as a capillary or Bond number dependence of the relative
permeability. This dependence plays an important role in processes like for example developed
near-miscibility and well impairment due to condensate drop-out. Mostly, however, this flow
regime is not applicable to the field situation, and therefore should be avoided in laboratory
experiments, if proper and reliable basic reservoir data are to be obtained. As a rule of thumb, Nc or
Nb are not to exceed 10-5 for imbibition experiments. Literature data indicate that Nc should not
exceed 10-3 during the drainage of the wetting phase. This is of particular importance when
preparing samples at Swi, in primary drainage, when most samples are water-wet.

Spreading coefficient

For the design of representative gas-oil gravity drainage experiments, the spreading condition of
the water-oil-gas system needs to be addressed. Following Adamson , [4] the spreading coefficient
for fluid 2, between fluids 1 and 3, is defined as:

S2,13 = s13 - (s23 + s12),

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with sij being the interfacial tension (IFT) between fluid i and j. For S2,13 >0, fluid 2 will spread
between liquids 1 and 3; if S<0, fluid 2 will not spread between the two other fluids. Note that in a
three-phase system, only one phase can be spreading at the time, but spreading does not have to
occur .[5]
In the field, at reservoir conditions, the IFT between oil and gas typically is in the order of say 10
mN/m, the IFT between oil and water around 20 mN/m and the IFT between water and gas
around 35 mN/m. Therefore So,wg amounts to some +5 mN/m and oil will spread between the gas
and the water phase. Close to the critical point of the hydrocarbons, or of the total
hydrocarbon-water system, the balance may change.
In the laboratory, the IFT between oil and gas typically is 25 mN/m, between oil and water some
30 mN/m and between water and gas the IFT is in the order of 50 mN/m. Therefore, So,wg will be
around -5 mN/m and the oil is non-spreading. It is of interest to note that for distilled water, the
IFT with air is about 70 mN/m, which would cause oil to spread. However, the water-gas IFT is
affected significantly by the equilibration with the oil phase and this brings the IFT down to 50
mN/m or so.
Gas-oil gravity drainage experiments need to be carried out at representative wetting - and
therefore: spreading - conditions. The synthetic oil soltrol is commonly used at laboratory
conditions to achieve oil-spreading in gas-water.


[1] Dake, L.P., "Fundamentals of Reservoir Engineering", Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company,
Amsterdam, 1977.
[2] Hagoort, J., "Displacement Stability of Water Drives in Water Wet Connate Water Bearing
Reservoirs", Soc. Pet. Eng. J., February 1974, pp 63-74, Trans. AIME.
[3] Boom, W.,: "Experimental evidence for improved condensate mobility at near wellbore flow
conditions", SPE.
[4] Adamson, A.W., "Physical chemistry of surfaces", 3rd Edition, John Wiley & Sons, New York,
[5] Boutkan, V.K., Private communication.


A m2 Cross sectional of the core plug

Ao Pa Area under the imbibition pc-curve between Sspw and 1-Sor
Aw Pa Area under the imbibition pc-curve between Sspo and Scw
Io Amott index for oil
Iw Amott index for water
g m/s2 Centrifugal acceleration
K m2 Permeability
kri Relative permeability for phase i
kro Relative oil permeability
kro,cw Relative oil permeability at connate water saturation

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Fluid flow in porous media : facts

krw Relative water permeability

krw,or Relative water permeability at residual oil saturation
L m Length
M End-point mobility ratio
Ms Shock front mobility ratio
no Corey exponent for oil
nw Corey exponent for water
Nb Bond number
Nc Capillary number
pc Pa Capillary pressure
po Pa Oil pressure
pw Pa Water pressure, wetting-phase pressure
pnw Pa Non-wetting phase pressure
P Pa Pressure difference
pi Pa Pressure difference in phase i
q m3/s Flow rate
qi m3/s Flow rate in phase i
Sw Water saturation
So Oil saturation
Sf Shock front saturation
Scw Connate water saturation
Sor Residual oil saturation
Sspo Spontaneous oil imbibition saturation
Sspw Spontaneous water imbibition saturation
S1,23 Pa.m Spreading coefficient of fluid 1 in between fluids 2 and 3
U USBM wettability index
difference indicator
Pa.s Viscosity
i Pa.s Viscosity of phase i
Pa.m Interfacial tension
kg/m3 Density


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