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SPE-174050-MS

Enhanced Oil Recovery of Heavy Oil in Reservoirs With Bottom Aquifer


Eric Delamaide, IFP Technologies (Canada) Inc.; Wilson Parra Moreno, Pacific Rubiales

Copyright 2015, Society of Petroleum Engineers

This paper was prepared for presentation at the SPE Western Regional Meeting held in Garden Grove, California, USA, 2730 April 2015.

This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE program committee following review of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents
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consent of the Society of Petroleum Engineers is prohibited. Permission to reproduce in print is restricted to an abstract of not more than 300 words; illustrations may
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Abstract
Oil production in presence of a bottom aquifer is one of the most challenging issues in reservoir
engineering. In most cases water coning happens very quickly and the influx of water restricts oil
production and limits recovery. The problem is even more difficult when the oil is heavy because the
viscosity contrast is large. In some cases horizontal wells may be used to improve the situation but when
reservoirs are thin and the oil is viscous even horizontal wells are of limited use. This paper presents the
challenges and potential solutions for Enhanced Oil Recovery in heavy oil reservoirs with bottom aquifer.
Existing literature is reviewed for field cases of EOR experience with bottom aquifer for chemical as
well as thermal processes (SAGD, steam injection as well as In Situ Combustion).
In the case of chemical EOR the chemicals may be lost to the aquifer; for thermal recovery the bottom
water can act as a heat sink and affect and steam oil ratio. Some in-situ combustion projects have been
successful in such settings but in every case the outcome is the same: the economics of the project can
be affected.
The paper contains some previously unpublished data of polymer injection in a heavy oil pool with
some limited bottom aquifer; for the most part it is a review of the existing literature which may prove
useful to practicing engineers who are faced with the issue of developing heavy oil resources in the
presence of bottom aquifer.

Introduction
Many operators are facing the challenge of producing heavy oil from reservoirs with bottom aquifer.
Simple coning calculations and practical experience suggest that water breakthrough is generally impos-
sible to prevent and can happen very rapidly. Once breakthrough is achieved water is preferentially
produced due to the difference in viscosity between water and heavy oil resulting in high water-cut and
requiring the disposal of large volumes of water. This also reduces oil production because of relative
permeability effects and because of practical limitations of pumping equipment.
The problem is not limited to a single country but can be encountered in many regions of the globe:
in Canada in the Lloydminster area, in some of the reservoirs in California, in Bohai Bay in China, in
Oman, in the Llanos basin in Colombia etc. Primary recovery varies depending on the oil viscosity,
thickness of the oil and water zones and other factors but is often low (less than 10% OOIP).
2 SPE-174050-MS

Several methods have been proposed to increase primary recovery in such context. Horizontal wells
have of course been used extensively to reduce water coning and increase production (Florez Anaya, et
al. 2012). A process named Anti-Water Coning Technology (AWACT) was developed by the AOSTRA
(Alberta Oil Sands Technology Research Authority) (Luhning, Chmilar and Anderson 1990) in the 1980s
and showed some promise and success (Lai and Wardlaw 1999). More recently, the use of a technology
called the Downhole Water Sink has been proposed and several variations introduced (Swisher and
Wojtanowicz 1995) (Shirman and Wojtanowicz 2000) (Qin, Wojtanowicz and White 2014). The tech-
nique consists in creating a water sink below the producing interval either by a second set of perforations
in vertical wells or by using a second horizontal well drilled below the first.
Inflow Control Devices (ICDs) have also been used successfully for instance in the Rubiales field in
Colombia (Gomez Gualdron, et al. 2014).
Water shut-off techniques are usually not recommended in the case of water coning in non-fractured
wells although this may not always be true with heavy oil (Sydansk and Seright 2007) (Seright, Lane and
Sydansk 2001). Some measure of success has been achieved (Faber, et al. 1998) (Foucault, et al. 2004)
but in some specific cases only and these techniques are not widely used in that situation. Waterflood is
not expected to be highly effective because of the bypass of injected water through the water leg.
Thus recovery factors in heavy oil reservoirs remain relatively low and the application of Enhanced Oil
Recovery (EOR) techniques is required to increase them.
EOR techniques are routinely applied in heavy oil reservoirs but unfortunately these techniques
themselves are not immune to the presence of bottom water. Surprisingly, the presence of bottom water
is not mentioned in most screening criteria (Taber, Martin and Seright 1997) (Hama, et al. 2014) (Saleh,
Wei and Bai 2014). This paper presents a review of the main EOR techniques and their applicability in
reservoirs with bottom water. Both theoretical studies and practical field experiences are presented and
discussed. Although this should be obvious, it could be useful to mention that the standard screening
criteria for each process still need to be met in addition to the specific requirement due to bottom water.

Cyclic steam stimulation and steam flooding


Process description
Steam injection is one of the most successful EOR processes and has been applied in many fields
worldwide. The principle is that heat is introduced into the reservoir by steam and reduces oil viscosity.
Steam injection can be done either in cyclic mode in a single well process (Cyclic Steam Stimulation or
CSS) or as a continuous displacement process between wells.
Literature review
The first investigations into the use of steam to recover heavy oil in the presence of bottom water date back
to the 1980s with Huygen and Lowry (Huygen and Lowry 1983). Using scaled models with a water to oil
thickness ratio of 20% they found that the water leg provides a path for the steam, improves steam
injectivity and counteracts steam override, leading to high recovery (up to 60% OOIP); however the Steam
Oil Ratio (SOR) and Cumulative Steam Oil Ratio (CSOR) are poor due to heat losses in the water leg.
However Huygen and Lowry focused on high viscosity bitumen (5 MM cp in reservoir conditions) so their
results may not be directly applicable to heavy oil with lower viscosity.
(Farouq Ali 1983) and Kasraie and Farouq Ali (Kasraie and Farouq Ali 1984) published one of the first
reviews of the challenges of heavy oil recovery in the presence of bottom water. They reviewed cyclic
steam injection, steamflood and In-Situ Combustion and suggested that steam would preferentially move
into the water zone due to the difference in viscosity. They concluded that the presence of bottom water
was manageable as long as the thickness of the steam zone was less than 20% of that of the oil zone. Their
work was later confirmed by Farouq Ali and co-workers (Kasraie and Farouq Ali 1987) (Farouq Ali and
Kasraie 1988) using reservoir simulations. Their results showed that the thickness of the bottom water
SPE-174050-MS 3

zone was very important for cyclic steam injection and steamflood and that performances could drop
rapidly when the ratio of the water zone to the oil zone thickness becomes greater than 0.2. They also
identified that low vertical permeability could improve the performances of the process.
Proctor and co-workers (Proctor, George and Farouq Ali 1987) used scaled model experiments to study
the influence of bottom water on steam injection in thin reservoirs. Their results were encouraging
provided that the water to oil ratio thickness is less than 10%.
Mehra and co-workers (Mehra, Ding and Donnely 1991) discuss the optimization of CSS cycles using
reservoir simulations for the Wolf Lake bitumen field in Canada. They concluded that heat losses could
be mitigated by using small slugs.
Chang and co-workers (Chang, Farouq Ali and George 1992) studied the interest of combinations of
vertical and horizontal wells for steamflooding reservoirs with bottom water. They showed that recovery
decreases when the thickness of the bottom water zone increases but that the process is still feasible. They
studied water zone thickness of up to 50% of the total reservoir thickness. Bagci and co-workers (Bagci,
Aybak and Shamsul 1999) obtained similar results.
Recently Andarcia and co-workers (Andarcia, et al. 2014) studied the potential for CSS and steamflood
in reservoirs with high mobile water saturations due to the presence of an aquifer and a thick transition
zone in the Llanos basin in Colombia using reservoir simulations. They suggest that the process would
result in high SORs.

Cyclic steam injection field cases


Lindbergh The reservoir of the Lindbergh field in Alberta, Canada is a thick sand with an average pay
thickness of 20 m and 4-5 m of bottom water (Pengrowth 2014). Oil (bitumen) viscosity varies from to
600, 000 cp. A cyclic steam project was operated by Murphy with recovery of 5-6% OOIP (up to 10%
OOIP in some wells) and an average CSOR of 3.6. Very little information is available on the project.
Pikes Peak Wong and co-workers (Wong, et al. 2001) discuss the Pikes Peak cyclic steam (CSS) and
steamflood project in Canada operated by Husky Oil where CSS was tested over bottom water with
vertical wells. Dead oil viscosity is 25, 000 cp. In every case tested (18 wells) the thickness of the oil zone
was over 15 m while bottom water thickness was less than 5 m (water to oil thickness ratio 0.3). The
process was successful in recovering incremental oil but the SOR was higher than in non-bottom water
areas though still economic (less than 3). They also experimented with the use of horizontal wells over
bottom water and the results were positive.
Fula The Fula field in Sudan is mentioned here for the sake of completeness. A CSS pilot was performed
in this thick (30 m) reservoir which contains heavy oil with a viscosity of 3, 000 cp at reservoir conditions
(Tewari, et al. 2011) (Wang, et al. 2011). Although the reservoir is believed to be underlain by a strong
aquifer it appears that shale baffles are restricting the water influx and the water-cuts showed in the paper
are low.

Steam flood field cases


Slocum Hall and Bowman (Hall and Bowman 1973) describe a project of steam injection directly into
a bottom water zone in the Slocum field in Texas. The reservoir is shallow (150 to 180 m) and contains
a 19 API oil with a viscosity varying from 1, 000 to 3, 000 cp. Thickness of the oil and water legs were
approximately 15 m and 3 m respectively (thus the ratio was 0.20). Due to the oil viscosity primary
recovery was only 1% OOIP and it was decided to inject steam directly into the water zone. A first pilot
was conducted in a 5-spot pattern and recovered 40% OOIP. It was followed by a larger pilot conducted
in 13 patterns which was later enlarged to 26 patterns and recovery reached 36% OOIP in the large pilot.
The SOR appears to have been poor.
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Smackover Smith and co-workers (Smith, et al. 1973) described a steamflood pilot in the Smackover
field in Arkansas. The oil viscosity is only 75 cp and the reservoir is at a depth of 580 to 620 m. A thin
(5 to 6 m) oil zone is found between a large gas-cap and a bottom aquifer; the aquifer is only a few feet
thick and its activity appears limited (here again water/oil is less than 0.20). Steam was injected in a 10
acres inverted 5-spot pattern and production increased from 23 to 282 bopd and the pilot was subsequently
expanded. The project was a success with significant incremental production and a SOR of 4.1.
South Belridge The Upper Tulare reservoir in the South Belridge field in California is a multi-layer with
a net sand thickness of about 22 m which contains a 13 API oil with an oil viscosity of 1, 875 cp (Fram
and Palermo 1996) (Dietrich 1990). Although the aquifer is an edge rather than a bottom aquifer, the wells
for the steamflood project were arranged in a line drive pattern with the injection wells located directly
above the aquifer. The presence of the aquifer resulted in an overall higher pressure (thus higher flow
rates) but also in a lower oil cut in the wells downdip compared to the wells updip. This is due to the
cooling effect of the aquifer. The pilot recovered 31% OOIP with a CSOR of 2.7 (Dietrich 1990).
Dedicated aquifer lift wells drilled below the WOC to produce water and reduce the reservoir pressure
were also successfully applied (Fram and Palermo 1996).
Shanjiasi Cyclic steam stimulation and steamflood have been used in the Shanjiasi field in China (Yao,
Zhou and Li 1995) which contains a 13 API oil with a dead oil viscosity of 5, 000 to 10, 000 cp at reservoir
temperature. The reservoir is thick (40-60 m) and has an active edge/bottom water aquifer. A well-
documented steamflood pilot was undertaken in two inverted 9-spot patterns in an area away from the
original aquifer but where water invasion had taken place. The pilot wells had been under cyclic steam
stimulation for a number of years before the steamflood started. The pilot evidenced very different
behavior between the wells far from the WOC which experienced a strong and quick response to
steamflood while the wells closer to the WOC responded later and not as much. In spite of this oil
production increased in all the wells and water-cut decreased as well.
Midway-Sunset Schamel and Deo (Schamel and Deo 2000) (Schamel and Deo 2006) discuss a steam
flood project in the Midway-Sunset field in California. The oil is heavy (13 API, 2, 070 cp at reservoir
temperature) and there is a water leg with a thick transition zone (30 to 45 m); the total thickness of the
oil column (including the transition zone) is 60 to 90 m thick (thus the water/oil ratio is up to 0.50). A
first steamflood pilot was implemented in 1997 in four inverted 9-spot patterns and was successful, with
a clear increase in oil production and a SOR of 3 to 5. Cyclic steam injection was also successfully
implemented. One of the issues in the field was the variation of water saturation laterally in addition to
vertically. This was shown to have an impact of the performances of the steam flood.

Steam assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD)


Process description
Since its invention by Butler in the 1970s SAGD has emerged as one of the most efficient recovery
techniques for heavy oil and bitumen. The process which has been described abundantly in the literature
consists in using two horizontal wells drilled on top of each other, steam being injected in the top one and
production occurring from the bottom one.
Literature review
Sugianto and Butler (Sugianto and Butler 1990) studied the potential for SAGD in reservoirs with bottom
aquifer and concluded that the process was still viable even if it was not as efficient as in the absence of
a water zone. The process can be optimized by a delicate control of the pressure in the steam chamber.
If the pressure is too low, bottom water can be drawn in which results in cooling of the formation and
fluids and loss of thermal efficiency. On the other hand if the pressure is kept too high there is a risk of
losing oil and steam into the water zone. Sugianto and Butlers work was later confirmed and expanded
SPE-174050-MS 5

by Doan and co-workers (Doan, et al. 2003) and by Dong and co-workers (Dong, et al. 2014) for 10, 000
cp oil.
SAGD field cases
Tangleflags North Jespersen and Fontaine (Jespersen and Fontaine 1993) described a steam injection
pilot using vertical injection wells situated directly over horizontal producers (a variation of the SAGD
process) in the Tangleflags North field in Saskatchewan, Canada. Live oil viscosity is approximately 4,
400 cp, the pay thickness is 37 m and the water leg is only a few meters thick. Primary production yielded
less than 1% OOIP recovery due to high water-cut and was deemed uneconomic. A first pilot with one
horizontal producer started with primary production and resulted in 90% water-cut within a few months;
after steam injection started the water-cut decreased to 60% and oil production increased. Following these
results a second pattern was started. Although no recovery figures were provided the process was a
success.
Senlac Boyle and co-workers (Boyle, Gittins and Chakrabarty 2003) describe the implementation of one
of the first SAGD pilots in Senlac in Saskatchewan, Canada where the dead oil viscosity is 5, 000 cp. The
reservoir net pay is generally over 10 m and bottom water (2 m) is only present over part of the pool. The
first phase of the project consisting of 3 well pairs was drilled in an area where no bottom water was
present but suffered from non-related operational issues. The second phase also consisting of three well
pairs was drilled in an area with 15 m of pay over 2 m of bottom water and even though they did not
perform as well as the other well pairs in the pool and were difficult to operate they still were successful.
One of the well pairs only achieved 24.2% OOIP recovery with a CSOR of 3.8 but the other two achieved
40.8% OOIP recovery with a CSOR of 3.2 and 51.8% OOIP with a CSOR of 2.4 (Delamaide 2015).
Tucker Lake Husky Oil is producing bitumen (9-10 API) from a thick reservoir (30-50 m) with a
transition zone (5-10 m) and bottom water (5-15 m) using SAGD in the Tucker Lake field in Alberta,
Canada (Husky Oil 2014). The initial phase with the wells drilled in the transition zone operated at very
high SOR and low oil rate. In the next phases the wells were drilled higher and the results improved
somewhat; the SOR is still high (around 5) even in the best cases.
Lindbergh Pengrowth has started production from the Lindbergh field in Alberta, Canada which was
described in the cyclic steam section. The reservoir in the pilot area is a thick sand with an average pay
thickness of 20 m and 4-5 m of bottom water (Pengrowth 2014). Oil (bitumen) viscosity varies from to
600, 000 cp. A two well pair pilot started in 2012 and good results have been obtained so far with CSORs
slightly over 2. The project is being extended to a larger area.
Leismer Statoil is producing bitumen over a bottom water zone using SAGD (Statoil Canada Ltd. 2014)
(Masih, Ma and Sanchez, et al. 2012) in the Leismer field in Alberta, Canada. The reservoir has over 20
m of net pay and the thickness of the bottom water varies from 0 to 27 m. Over 20 well pairs are
producing. Masih and co-workers (Masih, Ma and Sanchez, et al. 2012) (Masih, Ma and Del Valle, et al.
2014) showed how water analyses can be used to control and limit water influx from the aquifer in order
to limit its impact on the production. The pressure in the bottom water leg is also monitored using
observation wells. Although the bottom water is a challenge results appear good with CSOR of 2.7 to 3.0.

Hybrid steam-solvent methods


Solvent injection to increase recovery in heavy oil reservoirs is receiving significant attention, mostly in
combination with SAGD. Various combinations of solvent injection SAGD (ES-SAGD, SAP, etc.)
have been proposed and some of them have been implemented (James, Rezaei and Chatzis 2008). At the
moment no field test has taken place in a reservoir with a bottom aquifer however a recent paper
(Andarcia, et al. 2014) presents results of reservoir simulations which suggest that the addition of solvent
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could significantly improve performances in the case of a bottom aquifer with a thick transition zone and
initial mobile oil.

In-Situ Combustion
Process description
In Situ Combustion (ISC) also called air injection has been piloted extensively since the 1950s (Turta,
Chattopadhyay, et al. 2007). The process consist in injecting air in order to create and propagate a
combustion front in the reservoir, using the reservoir oil as fuel (Green and Willhite 1998). The process
is however difficult to control and has thus been applied at field scale in only a handful of cases.
Literature review
Farouq Ali (Farouq Ali 1983) and Kasraie and Farouq Ali (Kasraie and Farouq Ali 1984) studied In-Situ
Combustion (ISC) in the presence of bottom water and concluded that it would be a less unattractive
choice than steam injection. They suggested that air would tend to migrate into the water zone due to the
lower resistance, however this would be compensated to some extent by gravity effects. They also
mentioned that the thickness of the water zone would not make a significant difference.
Lau (Lau 2001) proposed a process termed Basal Combustion in which a combustion front is
initiated at the base of the oil column and the bottom water zone is used as a displacing agent. Preliminary
simulations suggested that the process could efficiently increase recovery.
Turta and co-workers (Turta, Coates and Greaves 2009) presented a detailed review of ISC in
reservoirs with bottom water. They studied the laboratory and field tests of the process. Their review
suggests that ISC in the presence of bottom water is hampered by an erratic propagation of the combustion
front and shows that results are in general poorer than when no bottom water is present. They established
preliminary screening criteria and concluded that the water to oil thickness ratio should be less than 0.25,
oil viscosity less than 1, 000 cp, and the oil pay over 5 m for the process to be efficient. Finally they
presented some other conceptual methods involving ISC such as Top-Down ISC but these methods are at
the conceptual stage and have not been tested.
De Zwart and co-workers (de Zwart, et al. 2008) introduced the concept of Thermally Assisted
Aquifer Drive (TAAD) which involves air injection at the top of the reservoir. Preliminary simulation
results in a thick (45 m) reservoir were good; later Brooks and co-workers (Brooks, et al. 2010) revised
the results using 3D simulations which suggested that the process would not be successful without air
confinement i.e. local structures are required.
In Situ Combustion field cases
Carlyle The Carlyle pool located in Kansas is a 10 to 15 m thick reservoir overlying a much thicker (30
to 40 m) water leg. Oil gravity is 19.5 API and oil viscosity is 700 cp in reservoir conditions (M. Smith
1966) (Elkins, Skov, et al. 1974). The active aquifer maintained reservoir pressure but resulted in high
water production and low primary recovery (3.5% OOIP according to Smith). Several tests were
conducted in the reservoir. The first test involved 4 air and water injection wells and 12 producers;
combustion was successfully initiated but production wells had to be stimulated before a production
increase could be achieved; subsequently oil rates increased significantly. Subsequent cores taken in the
combustion area revealed that much of the combustion had taken place below the Water-Oil contact. The
project was later expanded by the addition of several new patterns. Reverse combustion was also tested
in a different area of the field. A last forward combustion pilot was conducted in a 5-spot pattern; oil
production increased but the process was deemed uneconomic and the projects was stopped.
North Tisdale The North Tisdale field in Wyoming is a shallow sandstone reservoir with a 15-20 m
thick oil pay over a thin (3 m) water zone and a 5 m transition zone in between (Martin, et al. 1972). Oil
gravity was 21 API and oil viscosity was 175 cp at reservoir conditions. The pilot project took place in
SPE-174050-MS 7

an inverted 5-spot pattern and was later expanded; air was injected over a 3.5 years period. Combustion
was successfully established and resulted in incremental production (estimated at 14% OOIP). The project
was not very economic due to the very low oil prices prevailing at the time but it was a technical success.
S.E. Pauls Valley The S.E. Pauls Valley test (Elkins, Morton and Blackwell 1972) was conducted in a
highly unconsolidated reservoir with extensive sand production and the creation of wormholes. Net pay
thickness was 30 m and water zone thickness was over 15 m; oil viscosity in reservoir conditions was cp.
The test succeeded in increasing oil production from 100-170 bopd to 400 bopd but the presence of the
wormholes connecting wells was detrimental to the process. The economics of the process were also poor
in part due to unrelated reasons but also due to operational difficulties such as the formation of very stable
emulsions which required treatment.
Caddo Pine The Caddo Pine field in Louisiana is a thin (9 m) shallow sandstone reservoir overlying a
thick (30 m) water zone (Horne, et al. 1982). The 20.9 API gravity oil has a viscosity of 112 cp at reservoir
conditions. Combustion was successfully initiated in an inverted 5-spot pattern and oil rate reportedly
increased but the paper was written before clear conclusions could be drawn.
Bodo The Bodo pilot in Canada (Nazarko 1983) started in 1975. The reservoir is a thick channel with
a thickness of up to 18 m in the thickest part. The water appears concentrated in the central (lower
structurally) portion of the channel and its thickness is variable; it can reach 12 m at its thickest. The
viscosity of the 13 API oil is 2, 300 cp in reservoir conditions. The initial pilot proved successful and was
expanded twice to finally encompass seven 7-spot patterns. Incremental recovery for the pilot was
estimated at 14% OOIP.
Eyehill The Eyehill ISC pilot in Canada (Farquharson and Thornton 1986), (Morgan 1993) operated
from 1980 to 1990. The reservoir is a point bar sand with a net pay ranging from 5 to 15 m in the project
area and a bottom water zone of variable thickness (up to several meters). The pilot was composed of 9
inverted 5-spot patterns. A combustion front was clearly established and incremental oil was produced;
individual patterns recovery varied from 3.5% to 29.9% OOIP whereas primary production was expected
to reach only 5% OOIP. However the lowest recovery numbers were associated with patterns with bottom
water. Numerous operational problems were experienced in particular issue with treating produced
emulsions as well as pumping issues in high GOR wells. The project was finally terminated because of
low oil prices.
Quifa The Quifa field in Colombia produces from a high quality sand with excellent reservoir properties.
Reservoir thickness varies but was 7.5 m on the average in the pilot area. A thick bottom water zone of
variable depth is present below the reservoir. The viscosity of the 13.6 API oil is 114 cp. An ISC pilot
was implemented using the STAR technology in an inverted 9-spot pattern (Gonzalez, et al. 2014). The
pilot has apparently been successful although few details have been revealed so far (Pacific Rubiales
Energy Corp. 2013) (Pantin, et al. 2013).

Chemical EOR
Process description
As its name suggests, chemical EOR consists in the injection of various chemicals - namely polymer,
alkali and surfactant - either separately or in combination. Polymer is a water viscosifier mainly used for
mobility control, surfactant allows to reduce the interfacial tension between oil and water thus allowing
to reduce the residual oil saturation, and alkali allows to reduce surfactant adsorption on the rock and
sometimes to generate surfactant in situ. Chemical EOR has been applied extensively but mostly in lighter
oil although its use in heavy oil has been gaining in importance these past few years (Delamaide, Bazin,
et al. 2014) (Delamaide 2014).
8 SPE-174050-MS

Literature review
The main issue with chemical injection in the presence of bottom water is the loss of chemicals and oil
into the water zone.
Barnes (Barnes 1962) was the first to study the use of chemicals to improve recovery from reservoirs
with a bottom water zone. Later Islam and Farouq Ali (Islam and Farouq Ali 1987) studied several
methods to improve recovery in such reservoirs using various types of chemicals from polymer and gels
to foam and emulsions. They concluded that waterflood would be highly inefficient in high viscosity oil
(above 200 cp) with a recovery of only 2% OOIP; in all viscous oil cases the injection of chemicals
successfully improved oil recovery. Recovery was also found to degrade as the thickness of the water zone
increased.
Later, Hughes and co-workers (Hughes, et al. 1990) proposed to use polymer as a blocking agent to
prevent aquifer influx in the case of an edge/bottom water aquifer (oil viscosity was only 15 cp) in the
Gannett field offshore UK. They showed that water-cut could be reduced and recovery increased however
several years of polymer injection are necessary and the incremental recovery is limited. The economics
of the process are doubtful.
Yeung and Farouq Ali (Yeung and Farouq Ali 1994) (Yeung and Farouq Ali 1995) studied the impact
of crossflow between the oil and water zone and the use of a dynamic blocking process. They showed that
simultaneous injection of a blocking agent into the oil and the water zone improves recovery to a certain
extent.
Elkaddifi and co-workers (Elkaddifi, et al. 2008) performed sensitivities on various parameters and
confirmed the trends of previous workers.
Brooks and co-workers (Brooks, et al. 2010) studied polymer as one of the potential ways to increase
recovery in Nimr, a field in Oman with a strong bottom aquifer. The case is further discussed below.
Mukherjee and co-workers (Mukherjee et al. 2014) discussed a thin (22 m) offshore heavy oil reservoir
(291 cp) underlain by a large aquifer; the thickness of the aquifer is not given but appears at least equal
to the oil column. Using reservoir simulations they found limited incremental recovery using horizontal
wells and polymer (less than 5% OOIP) and a loss of over 60% of the polymer injected into the aquifer
along with between 5 to 10% of the oil present in the reservoir (investigated spacing was 50 m to 150 m).
They also suggested that better results could be achieved by a combination of hot water injection together
with polymer.
Li and co-workers (Li et al. 2014) described some laboratory tests and reservoir simulations for the
Bentley field offshore UK, which contains a high viscosity (1, 500 cp) oil with a 40 m oil column and a
large bottom aquifer; water thickness is not provided. Using horizontal producers and injectors separated
by 60 m only (laterally) they found that polymer injection could result in some incremental recovery of
48% of primary production which seems to correspond to 2.1% OOIP.
Most of the above studies (except that of Hughes and co-workers) do not take the economics of the
processes into account i.e. the quantities of chemicals that are required to achieve the increase in recovery.
All the studies were also performed on homogeneous reservoirs.

Chemical EOR field cases


We are not aware of any well documented successful field case of chemical injection in a heavy oil
reservoir with bottom water. The oil viscosity in the Oerrel case where polymer injection was performed
at the Water-Oil Contact (Maitin and Volz 1981) (Maitin 1992) is only 17 cp.
Huntington Beach Ustick and Hillhouse (Ustick and Hillhouse 1967) described a polymer injection test
in the Huntington Beach field in California. The Lower Garfield reservoir which was the target contains
medium viscosity heavy oil (76 cp) at reservoir conditions. The field is faulted. There is an active aquifer
and water-cut was moderately high (over 40%) during primary production but the location of the aquifer
SPE-174050-MS 9

is not known. Polymer was injected successfully in 3 wells but the lack of information on the aquifer
precludes a detailed analysis of the case.
Oerrel Maitin and co-workers (Maitin and Volz 1981) (Maitin 1992) described the polymer flood
performed in the highly faulted Oerrel field in Germany where the oil viscosity is approximately 17 cp.
There is a downdip (weak) aquifer which resulted in high water-cuts. Polymer solution was injected at the
Water-Oil Contact and an oil bank was formed in several wells and the water-cut was stabilized. The
interpretation of the results concluded that a large part of the polymer had been lost to the aquifer but that
the polymer had blocked the high permeability channels and redistributed the pressure in the reservoir,
resulting in increased oil production.
Captain A polymer flood pilot has been ongoing since 2011 in the Captain heavy oil field in the UK
North Sea (Poulsen 2010). Due to the high viscosity of the oil (50 to 150 cp) a polymer flood was
considered very early in the life of the field (Osterloh and Law 1998). Produced water is used for polymer
mixing and injection because of incompatibility between formation water and seawater. Very little
information is available on the results of the project in particular whether the pilot was actually
implemented in an area with bottom water. The operator Chevron has apparently just sanctioned the
extension of the pilot to a larger area of the field (Chevron United Kingdom 2014) but until more
information becomes available the project remains inconclusive.
Nimr Al Azri (Al Azri et al. 2010) studied polymer injection in the Nimr field in Oman, in a 30 m to
50 m thick heavy oil reservoir (viscosity 250 - 500 cp) underlain by an active aquifer (the thickness of the
aquifer is not provided). They found that horizontal wells in combination with polymer injection could
improve recovery by as much as 5 to 10% OOIP but we suspect that this is largely influenced by the very
short spacing (43 m) between injection and production wells which may not be practical in every situation.
A field trial appears to be in progress since 2013 (Al Abri et al. 2014) (Riethmuller, et al. 2014) but results
have not been published.
Pelican Lake A full field polymer flood has been ongoing in this field in Alberta, Canada since 2007
(Delamaide, Zaitoun, et al. 2014). The thin (5 m average) reservoir has very good petrophysical properties
and contains viscous oil (800 - 10, 000 cp in the flooded area). There is no bottom water over most of the
field except in an area in the center where the presence of bottom water is suspected (Cenovus Energy
2014). Although there is no obvious WOC visible on the logs - water salinity is only 8 g/L - the wells in
that area exhibit very high initial water-cuts contrary to the rest of the field. As a result most of this area
of suspected water presence has not been developed. Polymer injection has however taken place in some
patterns on the fringes where oil viscosity is in the 1, 500 - 2, 500 cp range. Figure 1 to Figure 3 show
the water-cut and response to polymer flood for 2 groups of wells in the same area, one with high initial
water- cut, the second with lower initial water-cut. In both cases polymer injection started in 2009 at
comparable rates. The response to polymer injection is not as good for the high water-cut wells and is also
slower.
10 SPE-174050-MS

Figure 1Comparison of water-cuts for 2 groups of wells

Figure 2Comparison of polymer flood response for 2 groups of wells


SPE-174050-MS 11

Figure 3Cumulative oil production from 2 groups of wells

VAPEX
Process description
Vapor solvent injection has been presented as an alternative to SAGD in particular when steam injection
is not possible (James, Rezaei and Chatzis 2008) and has received considerable attention. The original
concept is that of VAPEX - or Vapor Extraction (Butler and Mokrys 1991) - where solvent replaces steam
but the principle remains a gravity-driven process like SAGD.
Literature review
The process has been proposed as a potential solution to produce heavy oil and bitumen underlain by
bottom aquifer (Butler and Mokrys 1998). The concept is that solvent is not soluble in water so potential
losses due to the water zone are minimal, while the presence of the bottom water allows the solvent vapor
to spread underneath the oil formation and increase the oil-solvent contact area, thus increasing the
production rate. As the process relies heavily on solvent diffusion into the oil or bitumen and as diffusion
in inversely proportional to viscosity (Nenniger and Dunn 2008) the process can suffer from low
production rates - an issue that is still under debate. One of the main drawbacks of the process is the
potentially high solvent retention, as is the potential precipitation of asphaltenes due to the solvent.
Vapex field cases
Despite the fact that solvent injection has been extensively studied in the lab there are very few pilots
reported in the literature and only one with bottom water.
Winter Nexen conducted a Vapex trial in the Cummings reservoir of the Winter field in Saskatchewan
(Canada) (Nexen Inc. n.d.). The reservoir is a clean sandstone with high permeability (2-8 darcies)
containing a 12.9 API heavy oil with a viscosity of 2, 050 cp, overlying a strong bottom aquifer. In the
test area net oil pay was approximately 22 m over an 11 m-thick water leg. The pilot consisted in two
12 SPE-174050-MS

injection and one production wells, all parallel and horizontal, the central production well being drilled
approximately 8 m below the two injectors. Continuous Vapex injection was preceded by several cycles
of HuffnPuff injection in the 3 wells in order to establish communication. A vapor chamber was
successfully created and the process increased production in the bottom well in spite of poor conformance
control issues in the wells but the solvent recovery and the solvent-to-oil ratios were poor. The pilot was
later expanded by the addition of two external producers (Nexen Inc. 2009) in order to try and improve
the performances by reducing solvent losses outside the pattern. In spite of that the solvent-to-oil ratio
remained high (0.61) and it was calculated that 56% of the propane injected had migrated outside the pilot
area. This is not due to the aquifer but is an issue with the process itself.

Gas injection
Process description
Gas injection is a process largely applied in many regions of the world although usually for light oil.
Depending on reservoir pressure and the type of gas used, gas injection can be either miscible or
immiscible and the recovery mechanisms differ in both cases. Miscibility is difficult to achieve with heavy
oil because high pressure is required. Klins and Farouq Ali (Klins and Farouq Ali 1982) and other authors
(Sankur and Emanuel 1983) (Sayegh and Maini 1984) (Jha 1986) describe the basic mechanisms for heavy
oil recovery by immiscible CO2 injection as oil swelling and viscosity reduction. Immiscible CO2
injection has seen some success in heavy oil, in particular in Camurlu (Bardon, Karaoguz and Tholance
1986) and Bati Raman in Turkey (Sahin, Kalfa and Celebioglu 2008) as well as Wilmington in the USA
(Saner and Patton 1986).
Literature review
In theory due to the lower gas density gas should migrate to the top of the reservoir and thus the presence
of bottom water should not be an issue. The use of immiscible CO2 in heavy oil for bottom water
reservoirs was thus proposed by Stright and co-workers (Stright, Jr., et al. 1977).
Gas injection field cases
Grand Forks Stright and co-workers (Stright, Jr., et al. 1977) field tested the process in the Grand Forks
Lower Mannville C pool in Alberta (Canada). The pool has a bottom water zone which was approximately
8 m thick (for a 4 m oil pay) in the target well. Oil viscosity is only 8 cp. CO2 was injected in a well during
one day then the well was left to soak for 22 days. Results were poor and the conclusions were that the
gas had migrated away from the well - maybe aided by the long soak-in period. Reservoir simulations
suggested that a displacement scheme would be more efficient. This agrees with the (later) work of Sankur
and Emanuel (Sankur and Emanuel 1983).
Wilmington Immiscible CO2 injection was tested in an area of the Wilmington field in California with
a bottom water zone (Spivak, Garrison and Nguyen 1990). The Wilmington field is highly faulted with
several distinct reservoirs containing a 14 API oil with an oil viscosity of 180 to 410 cp in reservoir
conditions. A bottom water zone is present in the area of the pilot (Fault Block V) and some of the
injection wells were perforated in the transition zone. Net oil thickness in the project area was 43 m but
the thickness of the water zone is unclear. Oil production increased following the beginning of the gas
injection although final incremental recovery was less than 1% OOIP.
Nagylengyel The Nagylengyel field in Hungary is a very large fractured and karstic reservoir (dolomite
and limestone) containing 12-17 API heavy oil of variable viscosity (from 19 to 130 cp). The oil is mostly
contained in the karst and fractures and due to the presence of an active bottom aquifer and complex
reservoir structure oil can be trapped in local structural highs. In order to improve recovery it was decided
to inject CO2 and create an artificial secondary gas-cap (Biro and Vass 2003). Following a successful pilot
project which recovered an incremental 10.6% OOIP the process was extended in stages.
SPE-174050-MS 13

Discussion
The review presented above shows that several EOR processes have been successfully field tested in
heavy oil reservoirs with bottom water. One of the difficulty encountered during the review is the
variability of the oil viscosity in the field cases investigated - from medium to very high.
Steam injection - both CSS and steamflood - have been successfully employed although the process is
not as efficient (higher CSOR) as when no bottom water is present, due to heat losses to the water leg.
In addition all cases have taken place in reservoirs where the thickness of the bottom water is less than
that of the pay - most often less than 20%. SAGD has also been successful and may prove more efficient
because operating pressure can be controlled and adjusted to prevent water influx as well as oil losses to
the water leg.
In Situ Combustion has also seen some successes when bottom water is present but the process appears
more difficult to control than when no bottom water is present. Given the low success ratio of projects
worldwide ISC is always considered a complex process to control and operate even without bottom water.
Hopefully more information becomes available on the Quifa project in Colombia in the near future.
Chemical EOR has not been widely tested and is not expected to perform well due to potential chemical
losses to the water leg unless very small spacings are used or vertical permeability is very low. Polymer
has been utilized a few times as a blocking agent to reduce the water influx but in the context of edge
rather than bottom water. The limited experience in Pelican Lake appears to confirm that bottom water
is detrimental to the recovery; the ongoing field projects in Captain and Nimr may prove very informative
if they are published.
Vapex looks promising on paper but so far this has not been confirmed in field tests - although the issue
appears more due to the process itself than to the presence of bottom water. This is also the case for
immiscible gas injection although there is simply not enough field experience to conclude one way or the
other.

Conclusions
Bottom water can severely reduce primary recovery in heavy oil reservoirs and also has a negative impact
on Enhanced Oil Recovery performances. This review of theoretical studies as well as field cases suggests
that:
The presence of bottom water should be taken into account in EOR screening criteria;
There is no ideal and proven EOR method to manage bottom water in heavy oil reservoirs;
The main issues are always the economics of the process due to losses (either chemical or thermal)
to the bottom water zone;
Based on field experience thin water zones (less than 20% of the oil pay thickness) are far more
manageable than thicker ones;
Of all the steam-based processes SAGD appears to be the most adapted because controlling the
steam chamber pressure allows to prevent the inflow of water or conversely the loss of oil to the
water zone;
In Situ Combustion appears to be a potential solution but the process has seen few successes and
field extensions even without bottom water;
There is so far no published field case of successful chemical EOR with a bottom water zone;
Other techniques that can benefit from gravity effect - such as Vapex and immiscible gas injection
- have seen little field testing so far but could have some potential interest.

Acknowledgements
The authors want to thank Tristan Euzen of IFP Technologies (Canada) Inc. for his help in the geological
analysis of some of the pools.
14 SPE-174050-MS

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