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Mechanisms of Oil Recovery by Non-hydrocarbon

Gas Injection
Paitakhti Oskouie, S.J. and Tabatabaei Nezhad, S.A.
Chemical Engineering Faculty of Sahand University of Technology, Tabriz, Iran

Mechanisms of petroleum recovery by carbon dioxide injection were taken into
consideration. Advantages and disadvantages of its injection in the petroleum
reservoirs have been reviewed and compared with nitrogen injection. During the
course of study, different processes for petroleum flooding by carbon dioxide
injection evaluated. Also, Reservoir screening criteria for carbon dioxide injection
have been described. Based on the extensive studies, it was concluded that
relatively deep reservoirs with light and intermediate oils were good options for
EOR using CO2 injection.
Traditional primary and secondary oil production methods typically recover one
third of oil in place, leaving two third behind. During a well life, there is a point
that produced oils cost becomes more than its real price in the market. Under
normal conditions, oil production is halted and well is abandoned. Except for brief
periods, which EOR becomes economical, there is no good reason for EOR
operations. During the last years, oil was easy to find and the cost of newly found
oil was so less than the cost of recovered oil by EOR. This trend has started to
change, especially in the North America. Appreciable decline in the new
reservoirs discovery and increase in the petroleum demands, figure 1, has forced
oil companies to develop EOR methods. Thermal, chemical and gas flooding are
three major EOR methods, which have been developed during the last years [3].
Availability of gases as a by-product in the petroleum industry has caused to find
an undeniable potential for oil recovery. Carbon dioxide is a relatively cheap gas,
which produced in the petroleum industries as a waste gas. Its availability and
also environmental problems has conducted several investigations in this respect
(figure 2) [3]. Performed projects during the last years, as illustrated in the figure
3, have produced as much as 206000 barrels per day [3]. Figure 3 demonstrates
that miscible flooding by carbon dioxide has found considerable increments
during the last years. It can be concluded that present method has a strong
potential to apply in the secondary and tertiary recovery of petroleum reservoirs.
Present article has focused on the mechanisms of oil recovery by injection of
non-hydrocarbon gases, especially carbon dioxide. Following this, a brief
comparison was conducted between carbon dioxide and nitrogen and finally
reservoirs screening criteria, recommended by literature, was illustrated.
Mechanisms of oil recovery
Whether it can be carried out as a miscible or as an immiscible displacement and
regardless of how it is applied in the field, the following mechanisms play a role in
the oil recovery by CO2 flooding [4, 12]:

-Reduction of oil viscosity

-Oil swelling
-Extraction or vaporization of oil
-Miscibility effects
-Reduction of interfacial tension
-Solution gas drive or blow-down recovery
-Increase in the injectivity
The mechanisms, which have been listed above, are more or less important
depending on whether the CO2 displacement is miscible or immiscible. For
example, the vaporization of crude oil, development of miscibility, and reduction
of interfacial tension are very important with the miscible carbon dioxide process,
whereas reduction of crude oil viscosity and its swelling are more important
effects with the immiscible carbon dioxide displacement.
Advantages and disadvantages of carbon dioxide injection
When oil and water contain a significant amount of dissolved carbon dioxide their
viscosities, densities, and compressibilities are modified in a direction which
helps increase the oil recovery efficiency. Therefore, the use of carbon dioxide in
oil recovery should be considered where carbon dioxide is available in sufficient
quantities and is economically priced. Advantages, which gathered with carbon
dioxide flooding, are:
-Miscibility can be attained at low pressures
-Displacement efficiency is high in miscible cases
-This process aids recovery by solution gas drive
-It is useful over a wider range of crude oils than hydrocarbon injection methods
-Miscibility can be regenerated if lost
The miscible carbon dioxide process is primarily used for medium and light crude
oils [5]. In the case of immiscible carbon dioxide displacement, advantage is
taken of the swelling of the crude oil and the reduction in the crude oil viscosity
upon carbonation. Because of high solubility of the carbon dioxide in the crude
oil, for reservoirs containing highly under saturated crude oils or heavy oils, the
benefits of immiscible carbon dioxide flooding are also significant.
Disadvantages, which restrict this method, can be categorized as follows:
- Availability of carbon dioxide resources
- Transportation costs
- Under certain conditions, poor sweep and gravity segregation can be obtained
- Corrosion
- Necessity of produced gas recycling
Fundamentally differences of nitrogen and carbon dioxide injection
Nitrogen and carbon dioxide have different attitudes under reservoir conditions.
Up to 4000 psia, nitrogens viscosity increases with temperature increment but at
6000 psia its viscosity illustrates a different response and suddenly falls by
temperature increment [6].
In the case of viscosity, there is a reduction for carbon dioxide as long as
temperature increases [7]. Comparison reveals that carbon dioxide is usually
more viscose than nitrogen at reservoir conditions. Therefore its sweep efficiency
is stronger than nitrogen.

Nitrogen solubility in the crude oil is less than carbon dioxide [8-10]. Therefore,
evaporation and oil swelling will be poor mechanisms in the case of immiscible
nitrogen flooding.
Also, minimum miscibility pressure of carbon dioxide is lower than nitrogen. For
this reason, reservoirs with light oils at elevated pressures are recommended for
miscible displacement by nitrogen [5].
Appreciable solubility of carbon dioxide in the crude oil reduces its viscosity. At
low temperatures, viscosity reduction for light oils is more than heavy oils [9].
Nitrogen has different effect on the oil viscosity and increases it by stripping light
components [11].
Density of carbon dioxide-saturated oil increases with increment of its content in
the light oils. In the case of low gravity oils, it has different effect and decreases
by increment of carbon dioxide content. This ambiguity in the density
performance is likely related to either close similarity of oil and CO2 densities and
also crossover of pure oil and CO2 densities [9].
Carbon dioxide flooding processes
Literature review revealed that CO2 flooding has been studied in the laboratory
or practiced in the field as follows:
1-Carbon dioxide stimulation
2-Continuous carbon dioxide injection
3-Simultaneous injection of CO2 and water
4-Water and CO2 alternating slugs
5-CO2 injections with nitrogen
6-Carbon dioxide injections with methane
7-The CO2- SO2 combination
8-Carbon dioxide and LPG mixtures
9-LPG followed by CO2
With two exceptions, the CO2 flooding processes are normally started by pure
CO2 injection initially, which is followed by small slugs of another fluids as
alternate in some cases, and finally is terminated by driving or chase fluid.
Driving fluids, which are normally used, are either water or gas. First exception is
carbon dioxide stimulation process, which is carried out in producing wells. It is a
stimulation technique that is very similar to a huff and puff scheme. Another
exception occurs in the reservoirs with low pressure. They must initially be
pressurized prior to CO2 injection, which commonly is achieved by water
Reservoir screening criteria for carbon dioxide injection
There are several publications for screening reservoirs with potential of CO2
flooding. These screening guidelines are very broad and are intended only to
help identify candidate reservoirs that might warrant more thorough evaluation to
assess their CO2 miscible flooding suitability. These guidelines can be
summarized in table 1 [5]. For a reservoir to be a CO2-miscible flooding
candidate, miscibility pressure must be attainable over a significant volume of the
reservoir. Miscibility pressure for CO2 often is significantly lower than the

pressure required for miscibility with natural gas, flue gas, or nitrogen. The high
pressure required for dynamic miscibility limits opportunities for miscible flooding
with these gases. However, this often is not the case with CO2 and its miscibility
can be attained at shallower depths for a much wider spectrum of oils. Miscibility
pressure usually increases with decreasing oil gravity. Reservoirs containing oils
with gravities lower than about 22API generally cant be CO2-miscible flood
candidates. Reservoirs shallower than about 2,500 ft cant usually be a candidate
because at this shallow depth even a relatively low miscibility pressure cannot be
attained without fracturing the reservoir. Reservoir heterogeneity is also another
parameter, which determines the suitability of a reservoir for CO2 flooding.
Water-flood history, geology, logs, and well transient tests can be indications of
reservoir heterogeneity.
Oil displacement strongly depends on factors, which are related to the phase
behavior of CO2-crude oil mixtures. Reservoirs temperature and pressure and
crude oil composition are the main agents in this respect. Dominated
displacement characteristics for a given CO2-displacement falls into one of the
four regions as shown in the table 2 [12].
Because of carbon dioxide low viscosity, the viscosity ratio with reservoir oils
invariably will be unfavorable. Therefore the mobility ratio of the displacement will
be unfavorable unless the CO2 relative permeability is sufficiently reduced by
alternate water injection, semisolid or heavy-liquid precipitation, or other factors
to keep the mobility ratio favorable. Unfavorable mobility ratio adversely affects
sweep-out and can hasten CO2 slug destruction in the gas-driven slug process
by viscous fingering. For these reasons, reservoirs containing oils of relatively
high viscosity are not suitable candidates for CO2 miscible flooding [13].
As in the case of hydrocarbon-miscible flooding, severe reservoir heterogeneity
causing excessive production of CO2 is to be avoided. Although some CO2
production is to be expected even in the best-performing floods and although
compression and re-injection of produced CO2 may be economically sound in
specific projects, severe channeling caused by extreme stratification or fracturing
can reduce the ratio of oil recovered per gross cubic foot of CO2 injected to an
uneconomical value, and reservoirs with these characteristics should be avoided.
As the hydrocarbon-miscible processes, economic factors determine the
minimum oil saturation, which accepted for CO2 flooding. However, as a rough
guideline, oil saturation should not be less than about 20% PV in those portions
of the reservoir that will be swept miscibly [13].
Petroleum flooding by non-hydrocarbon gases is a relatively cheap process with
appreciable potential to apply in the reservoirs. Injection of non-hydrocarbon
gases, especially carbon dioxide, has found noticeable attractions during the last
years. Nitrogen is a universal available cheap gas with a good potential for EOR
applications in the deep reservoirs. High minimum miscibility pressure of this gas
has limited its applicability in the reservoirs with medium depths. According to the
literatures, reservoirs containing high and medium gravity oils are good
candidates to apply miscible carbon dioxide flooding. Carbon dioxide alternate

water injection has been recommended to reduce unfavorable affects of relative

permeability of carbon dioxide and oil. Reservoir heterogeneity is also another
parameter, which determines the suitability of a reservoir for CO2 flooding.
Water-flood history, geology, logs, and well transient tests are indications of
reservoir heterogeneity, which should be considered. Economic factors
determine the minimum oil saturation, which accepted for CO2 flooding. As a
rough guideline, oil saturation should not be less than about 20% PV in those
portions of the reservoir that will be swept miscibly.
1. Energy Information Administration: U.S. Crude Oil, Natural Gas, and Natural Gas Liquids
Reserves 2002 Annual Report, December 2003.
2. Energy Information Administration / Annual Energy Review, 2002.
3. Moritis, G.: EOR Continues to Unlock the Oil Resources, Oil & Gas Journal, pp. 45-52, April
12, 2004.
4. Mangalsingh, D., Jagai, T.: A Laboratory Investigation of the Carbon Dioxide Immiscible
Process, SPE 36134, 1996.
5. Taber, J.J. and et al.: EOR Screening Criteria Revisited, SPE 35385, 1996.
6. Stalkup, F.I.: Miscible Displacement, SPE Monograph Series, New York, p. 129, and 1984.
7. Jianhang X.: Carbon Dioxide Thickening Agents for Reduced CO2 Mobility, PhD dissertation,
University of Pittsburg, School of Engineering, 2003.
8. Moritis, G.: EOR Dips in U.S. but Remains a Significant Factor, Oil & Gas Journal, p. 51-79,
Sept. 26, 1994.
9. Benionn D. B. and Thomas, B.: The Use of Carbon Dioxide as an Enhanced Recovery Agent
for Increasing Heavy Oil Production, Prepared for presentation at the -Joint Canada / Romania
Heavy Oil Symposium, March 7-13, 1993.
10. Gao, J., Zheng, D. and Guo, T.: Solubility of Methane, Nitrogen, Carbon Dioxide, and a
Natural Gas Mixture in Aqueous Sodium Bicarbonate Solutions under High Pressure and
Elevated Temperature, J. Chem. Eng. Data, Vol. 42, p. 69-73, 1997.
11. Vogel, J.L., Yarborough, L.: The Effect of Nitrogen on the Phase Behavior and Physical
Properties of Reservoir Fluids, SPE 8815, 1980.
12. Klins, M.A.: Carbon Dioxide Flooding, International Human Resources Development
Corporation, pp. 69 and 1984.
13. Office of Technology Assessment: Enhanced Oil Recovery Potential in the United States,
Jan., and 1978.

Figure 1. Review on U.S.A. petroleum production, imports, discoveries and proved

reserves during 1976-2002 [1,2]

Figure 2. Petroleum production by miscible and immiscible carbon dioxide flooding in the
United States [3]