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1.5 Production from Petroleum Reservoirs

Production from petroleum reservoirs is a replacement process. This means that when hydrocarbon is produced from a reservoir, the space that it occupied must be replaced with something. That something could be the swelling of the remaining hydrocarbon due to a drop in reservoir pressure, the encroachment of water from a neighboring aquifer, or the expansion of formation.

The initial production of hydrocarbons from an underground reservoir is accomplished by the use of natural reservoir energy.27 This type of production is termed primary production. Sources of natural reservoir energy that lead to primary production include the swelling of reservoir fluids, the release of solution gas as the reservoir pressure declines, nearby communicating aquifers, gravity drainage, and formation expansion. When there is no communicating aquifer, the hydrocarbon recovery is brought about mainly by the swelling or expansion of reservoir fluids as the pressure in the formation drops. However, in the case of oil, it may be materially aided by gravitational drainage. When there is water influx from the aquifer and the reservoir pressure remains near the initial reservoir pressure, recovery is accomplished by a displacement mechanism, which again may be aided by gravitational drainage.

When the natural reservoir energy has been depleted, it becomes necessary to augment the natural energy with an external source. This is usually accomplished by the injection of gas (reinjected solution gas, carbon dioxide, or nitrogen) and/or water. The use of an injection scheme is called a secondary recovery operation. When water injection is the secondary recovery process, the process is referred to as waterflooding. The main purpose of either a natural gas or water injection process is to repressurize the reservoir and then maintain the reservoir at a high pressure. Hence the term pressure maintenance is sometimes used to describe a secondary recovery process. Often injected fluids also displace oil toward production wells, thus providing an additional recovery mechanism.

When gas is used as the pressure maintenance agent, it is usually injected into a zone of free gas (i.e., a gas cap) to maximize recovery by gravity drainage. The injected gas is usually produced natural gas from the reservoir in question. This, of course, defers the sale of that gas until the secondary operation is completed and the gas can be recovered by depletion. Other gases, such as nitrogen, can be injected to maintain reservoir pressure. This allows the natural gas to be sold as it is produced.

Waterflooding recovers oil by the water moving through the reservoir as a bank of fluid and “pushing” oil ahead of it. The recovery efficiency of a waterflood is largely a function of the macroscopic sweep efficiency of the flood and the microscopic pore scale displacement behavior that is largely governed by the ratio of the oil and water viscosities. These concepts will be discussed in detail in Chapters 9, 10, and 11.

In many reservoirs, several recovery mechanisms may be operating simultaneously, but generally one or two predominate. During the producing life of a reservoir, the predominance may shift from one mechanism to another either naturally or because of operations planned by engineers. For example, initial production in a volumetric reservoir may occur through the mechanism of fluid expansion. When its pressure is largely depleted, the dominant mechanism may change to gravitational drainage, the fluid being lifted to the surface by pumps. Still later, water may be injected in some wells to drive additional oil to other wells. In this case, the cycle of the mechanisms is expansion, gravitational drainage, displacement. There are many alternatives in these cycles, and it is the object of the reservoir engineer to plan these cycles for maximum recovery, usually in minimum time.

Other displacement processes called tertiary recovery processes have been developed for application in situations in which secondary processes have become ineffective. However, the same processes have also been considered for reservoir applications when secondary recovery techniques are not used because of low recovery potential. In this latter case, the word tertiary is a misnomer. For most reservoirs, it is advantageous to begin a secondary or a tertiary process before primary production is completed. For these reservoirs, the term enhanced oil recovery was introduced and has become popular in reference to any recovery process that, in general, improves the recovery over what the natural reservoir energy would be expected to yield. Enhanced oil recovery processes are presented in detail in Chapter 11.

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