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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The influence of interfacial tension on water-oil two-phase relative permeability


Water-oil relative permeability characterizes two-phase flow and displacement processes, and its functional form is difficult to determine in a particular reservoir study. Adding various chemical agents into the displacing aqueous phase during alkaline-surfactant-polymer combination chemical flooding in oil production significantly changes interfacial tension (?) on water-oil interfaces, and also increases the degree of difficulty in measuring such changes in the laboratory or field. To overcome the limitations of the existing laboratory measurements of relative permeability (which are applicable only for high ranges of interfacial tension [e.g., ? > 10-2 mN/m], we present a comprehensive experimental study of two-phase relative-permeability functions in much lower, more realistic interfacial tension water-oil systems. In particular, we have (1) develop an improved steady-state method of measuring water-oil relative permeability curves; (2) proven that a critical interfacial tension value (?c) exists such that interfacial tension has little impact on relative permeability for ? > ?c , while if ? < ?c, relative permeabilities to both water and oil phases will increase with decreasing interfacial tension; and (3) shown that a logarithmic relationship exists between water-oil two-phase relative permeability and interfacial tensions. The experimental results reported here and conceptual models proposed here will be useful for feasibility studies, optimal designs, and numerical simulations of different chemical flooding operations in oil reservoirs.

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