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# IRREDUCIBLE WATER

We have already seen how, on a molecular level, the interaction between clay and
water results in lower resistivity values. Now we will step back somewhat, and
readjust our sights for a microscopic examination of the pores in a pay zone. At this
level, we will see that water, rather than clay, is a prime factor contributing to low
resistivity pays.
In this section, we will describe a number of inter-related factors, each of which are
intimately tied to the amount of non-producible bound-water that a reservoir can hold
(Figure 1: Water at the intergranular scale). Though not produced, this bound-water
is none-the-less detected and measured by resistivity tools, which do not distinguish
between

freely

Figure 1

produced

water

and

immovable

water.

We will start with a brief review of the concepts of porosity and saturation, and will
take a closer look at permeability and capillarity as they relate to bound-water. We
will see that structural position also plays an important role, along with rock-fluid
interactions and fluid-fluid interactions, in determining whether a low-resistivity pay
zone will produce water or hydrocarbons.
Porosity
Porosity is the ratio of pore space in the rock to the bulk volume of the rock. It is
expressed as a fraction or as a percent of the bulk volume. In equation form,

where:

Vp

porosity
=

Vb

in
pore

fraction
volume

bulk

volume

## Vp and Vb can be expressed in any consistent units.

POROSITY CLASSIFICATION
In terms of production, three types of porosity are recognized:
Total porosity refers to all pore space in a rock.
Effective porosity refers only to that portion of the total porosity consisting of
interconnected pore spaces; more specifically, effective porosity is that portion
of the total porosity which will allow fluid flow under normal recovery processes
in the reservoir. Effective porosity is a dimensionless quantity, defined as the
ratio of interconnected pore volume to the bulk volume.
Non-effective porosity is the remaining portion of total porosity which occurs
either as isolated pore spaces or as microporosity.

## The difference between these porosities may be significant in highly vuggy or

fractured reservoirs, where some vugs or fractures may be isolated.
The presence of clay also complicates the definition of rock porosity. Although the
layer of closely bound surface water on the clay particle can represent a very
significant amount of porosity, it is not available as potential reservoir porosity for
hydrocarbons. Thus, a shale or shaly formation may exhibit a high total porosity,
while actually having a low effective porosity as a potential hydrocarbon reservoir.
Bound water is held by non-effective porosity. When we calculate water saturation
for producibility estimations we are must be sure to use effective porosity.
MICROPOROSITY
Microporosity refers to pore spaces which are so small in diameter (4 or less) that
they trap and hold water immobile through capillary action. Microporosity is
commonly associated with authigenic clay minerals whose open structure is able to
trap water. Another example is chalk, which commonly exhibits a large percentage of
microporosity, with very high total porosity but low matrix permeability.
Microporosity is considered non-effective porosity as far as the production potential
of the reservoir is concerned. If it is not recognized as such, microporosity can lead
to optimistic predictions of potential reservoir porosity. On the other hand, bound
to pessimistic estimations of water saturation.
Saturation
Saturation is a measure of the relative volume of each fluid in the pores. Thus, oil
saturation is defined as the ratio of the volume of the oil in a porous rock to the pore
volume of the same rock. It is expressed in fraction or in percent, and ranges from 0
to nearly 100%. Water is always present in all reservoirs, and its saturation is always
greater than zero. In contrast, the oil saturation is zero in gas reservoirs, and the gas
saturation is zero in oil reservoirs when the pressure is above the bubble-point. Oil
or gas saturation is calculated by subtracting the water saturation from unity (in twophase reservoirs).

## IRREDUCIBLE WATER SATURATION

Irreducible water saturation (sometimes called critical water saturation) defines the
maximum water saturation that a formation with a given permeability and porosity
can retain without producing water. This water, although present, is held in place by
capillary forces and will not flow. Critical water saturations are usually determined
through special core analysis.
The critical water value should be compared to the reservoir's in-place water
saturation calculated from downhole electric logs. If the in-place water saturation
does not exceed the critical value, then the well will produce only hydrocarbons.
These saturation comparisons are particularly important in low permeability
reservoirs, where critical water saturation can exceed 60% while still producing only
hydrocarbons.
USING MAGNETIC RESONANCE TO OBTAIN BOUND WATER SATURATIONS
After describing total, effective, and non-effective porosity (above), we can now
define the saturation of non-producible bound water in terms of effective and total
porosity through the following equation:

Where

## Swb is bound water saturation

T is total porosity

E is effective porosity

## In essence, this bound water saturation equation divides non-effective porosity by

total porosity.
Total and effective porosity measurements can be obtained through magnetic
low resistivity pay zones, see the section of this module entitled Advances in
Logging.

Ostroff, Shorey, and Georgi (1999) use a variation on the Hill, Shirley, and Klein
formula (1979) to show how magnetic resonance log measurements can relate
bound water saturation to cation exchange capacity and in-situ flushed zone water
salinity:

where

## Co is the salinity of equilibrated saturant brine in equivalents/liter

Swb is the NMR-derived clay bound water saturation, which equals CBW / total
where CBW is NMR-derived clay bound water.

## Wettability and Interfacial Tension

The principal fluids in a petroleum reservoir are water, oil and gas. When they exist
as free phases, they are generally immiscible. When these immiscible fluids co-exist
within the pore spaces of a reservoir, their interactions with one another and with the
enclosing rock will control their spatial distribution and movement. The two principal
properties used to quantify these interactions are wettability, which pertains to rockfluid interactions, and interfacial tension, which relates to fluid-fluid interactions.
WETTABILITY
Wettability is the tendency for a fluid to spread or adhere to a solid (rock) surface in
the presence of other immiscible fluids. For example, in a hydrocarbon reservoir, we
are primarily concerned with water-oil-solid, gas-oil-solid, or gas-water-solid
systems. In those systems involving two liquid phases (oil and water), one of the
liquid phases will preferentially wet the surface, and hence is called the wetting
phase, whereas the other is the non-wetting phase. In those systems involving gas,
the liquid is usually wetting, whereas the gas is non-wetting.
INTERFACIAL TENSION

## The wettability of a surface is determined by the interaction of interfacial energies

that act on the fluids and the surface. For two immiscible co-existing fluids in a
porous media, the one with the lower interfacial tension is the wetting phase, while
the other is the non-wetting phase. Interfacial tension is a measure of the surface
energy per unit area of the interface between two immiscible fluids, such as water
and crude oil, or oil and gas. The lower the solid-fluid interfacial tension, the lower
the surface energy and the higher the tendency for the fluid to wet that surface.
Permeability
Permeability is a measure of the ability of porous rock to transmit fluid.
PERMEABILITY CLASSIFICATION
Permeability is further classified as either absolute or effective, depending on
whether one or more fluids occupy the pore spaces of the rock.
Absolute permeability occurs when only one fluid is present in the rock. It is
independent of the fluid used in the measurement. This assumes that the fluid does
not interact with the rock.
Effective permeability is the measured permeability of a porous medium to one fluid,
when other fluids are present. Effective permeability depends on the relative
proportion of the fluids present (fluid saturation).
Consider the case of oil and water together in a pore system. Under a given
pressure gradient, the oil and water flow through a pore system together. Based on
Darcy's equation, we find that:
for oil -

for water -

where:
k

permeability

flow

fluid

pressure

rate
viscosity
differential

length

A = cross-sectional area
Furthermore, we find that the total flow rate (Qt,) is expressed by the equation:
Qt = (Qo + Qw),
Qt is less than the flow rate that either phase would have if it were at 100%
saturation. Thus it appears as though the two phases interfere with each other's
progress through the pore system. A useful way to quantify this phenomenon is to
define the relative permeability, (kr).
RELATIVE PERMEABILITY
Darcy's definition of permeability was for a porous medium which was 100%
saturated with the flowing phase (the phase was water). Hydrocarbon reservoirs
normally have two and perhaps three phases present: both water and oil; or water
and gas; or water, oil, and gas sharing the pore space of the rock. We have seen
that having more than one phase present in the pores reduces the ability of the rock
to transmit any one of the fluid phases. For this reason, we define the effective
permeability as the permeability to one phase when there is more than one phase
present in the pore space. Its value decreases as the phases' saturation decreases.
There is an effective permeability value for each phase present.
Usually the effective permeability is expressed as a fraction of the absolute
permeability, which is the permeability at 100% saturation of the flowing fluid. This
ratio of effective to absolute permeability is termed the relative permeability, and can
be displayed as a set of curves as shown in Figure 2, for an oil and water system.

Figure 2

This graph shows that the relative permeability to oil decreases as the oil saturation
decreases and the water saturation increases above its irreducible (or connate)
value. Conversely, the relative permeability to water increases, reaching a maximum
when the oil saturation is at its residual saturation. This same general principle
applies to any two-or three-phase system.
The graph shows that relative permeability is also a function of fluid saturation.
When multiple, immiscible fluid phases flow in a rock, the sum of the effective
permeabilities of the various fluids will commonly be significantly less than the
absolute permeability measured with only a single fluid in the rock. A different way of
stating this is that the sum of the relative permeabilities for all the fluids in the rock
will commonly be less than one.

Relative permeability is the ratio of the effective permeability of the rock to one
phase divided by the absolute permeability, and it is quoted at some particular
saturation value:
kro = kr / k
krw = kw / k
Relative Permeability and Irreducible Water Saturation
Another important relative permeability concept is that of the irreducible or residual
saturation.
If two fluid phases, A and B, are flowing in a rock, the relative permeability of fluid
phase A will decrease as the saturation of fluid A decreases. At some non-zero
saturation of fluid A (commonly 5% to 4%), fluid A will cease to flow, and only fluid B
will continue to flow in the rock. The saturation at that point is termed the irreducible
or residual saturation of fluid A for the A-B two phase flow system in this rock.
Relative permeability to oil at irreducible water saturation is 100% or 1, and as water
saturation increases, kro decreases until it effectively reaches zero at some high
water saturation corresponding to Sor, the residual oil saturation.
Relative permeability to water, on the other hand, commences effectively at zero
when the rock is at irreducible water saturation S wi, and thereafter increases as Sw
increases. It should also be noted that in an oil-wet system, kro is always less at a
given Sw than in a water-wet system. Conversely, krw is always greater in an oil-wet
system than in a water-wet one.
Many workers in this field have proposed generalized empirical equations to relate
kro and krw to Sw, Swi, and Sor Of particular note are those cited in Honarpour,
Koederitz, and Harvey (1982), Molina (1983), and Pirson, Boatman, and Nettle
(1964). A commonly used approximation gives

Structural Position
If a well is completed above the transition zone where the reservoir is at irreducible
water saturation (krw = 0), then water will not be produced.
Capillary Pressure
In everyday experience, water levels in two or more connected containers have the
same level if exposed to the same atmospheric conditions. But when it comes to
spaces of capillary size (like those we encounter in porous media), we cannot take
this rule so literally. To illustrate, consider what happens when a tube of capillary size
is dipped in a larger container filled with water (Figure 3) The water in the capillary
tube rises above the water level in the container to a height that depends on
capillary

size.

Figure 3

Although strictly speaking, the water still finds its level, it does so in such a way as to
maintain an overall minimum surface energy.
In this situation, the adhesion force allows water to rise up in the capillary tube while
gravity acts in the opposite direction. The water rises until there is a balance
between these two opposing forces. The differential force between adhesion and
gravity is the capillary force. This force per unit area is the capillary pressure.
Capillary pressure is defined as the pressure difference between two fluid phases
(e.g., oil and water) at the same point in the reservoir. It is a measure of the rockfluid adhesion and fluid-fluid interfacial tension forces that act to hold one fluid phase
(e.g., water) at a particular location in the reservoir (e.g., above the oil-water contact)
against the force of gravity. Capillary pressure is a complex function of the nature of

the contained fluids, the saturation of the fluid phases, the wettability of the rock, and
the pore size distribution of the rock.
As we might surmise from observations of the capillary tube illustrated in the Figure
above, there is a relationship between capillary pressure, P c , and the interfacial
tension between the two fluids (in this example -water and air).

where
Pc
wn
r

=
=

capillary

wetting/non-wetting
=

phase
of

pressure
interfacial
the

tension
tube

## = angle of contact between the solid surface and liquid

CAPILLARY FLUID RISE
An alternative way to express capillary pressure is in terms of height above a free
water surface. Capillary pressure is equal to the product of the height above the free
water surface and the density difference between the two fluid phases at reservoir
conditions. In a reservoir, the relationship between water saturation and height
above an oil-water or gas-water contact is, of course, strongly dependent on the rock
pore system, as well as on the wettability and interfacial tension properties of the
rock-fluid system.
We will again use Figure 3 of the capillary tube to illustrate fluid height. The capillary
tube of radius r will support a column of water of height h. If the density of the air is

a and the density of the water is w, then the pressure differential at the air-water
contact is simply (w -a)h. This pressure differential acting across the cross-sectional
area of the capillary is exactly counterbalanced by the surface tension, T, of the
water film acting around the inner circumference of the capillary tube. If the contact
angle is at the interface between the water and the glass face of the capillary tube,
then at equilibrium we have:

## 2rT cos = (w -a)h . r2

Force = Pressure . Area
By simplifying and rearranging this expression we see that height is expressed as:

As the capillary tube radius (r ) decreases, the height (h) of the water column
increases; therefore, the height of fluid rise above a free water surface in a capillary
tube is inversely proportional to the radius of the tube. We can draw an analogy
between the capillary tube radius and the radii of pore throats in the rock matrix. In
the above example, we can correlate the air to oil, water with water, and the tube
with pore throats.
Translating this laboratory observation in terms of reservoir conditions, we can see
that water can be drawn up into what would otherwise be a 100% oil column by the
capillary effect resulting from small pores in the rock system. Thus the maximum
height, h, to which water can be raised is controlled by the following factors:
the surface tension, T, between the two phases (oil and water)
the contact angle, , between the wetting fluid (water) and the rock
the radius of the pore throats (r)
the density difference between phases (w -o in this case)
In summary, the capillary rise will be greater in a rock with smaller pore throats than
in one with large pore throats.
Length of Transition Zone
Given the above factors, it is easy to characterize the relative length of a transition
zone in a reservoir. Reservoirs with large pore throats and high permeability have
short transition zones, and the transition zone at a gas-oil contact will be shorter
than that at an oil-water contact simply because of the inter-phase density

differences

involved

(Figure

).

Figure 4

Since a pore system is made up of a variety of pore sizes and shapes, no single
pore throat radius can be assigned to a reservoir. Depending on the size and
distribution of the pore throats, certain available pore channels will raise water above
the free-water level. The water saturation above the top of the transition zone will
thus be a function of porosity and pore-size distribution.
In a water-wet system, the water will wet the surface of each grain or will line the
walls of the capillary tubes. At the time oil migrates into the reservoir, the capillary
pressure effects will be such that the downward progress of oil in the reservoir is
most strongly resisted in the smallest capillaries. A particular elevation will limit the

amount of oil that can be expected to fill the pores. Large-diameter pores offer little
resistance (capillary pressure, Pc, is low because pore radius, r, is large). Smalldiameter pores offer greater resistance (Pc is high because r is small). For a given
reservoir, o and w determine the pressure differential that an oil-water meniscus
can support.
Capillary Pressure and Irreducible Water Saturation
Maximum oil saturation is controlled by the relative number of small and large
capillaries or pore throats. This maximum possible oil saturation, if expressed in
terms of water saturation, translates into a minimum possible water saturation, and
this is referred to as the irreducible water saturation, Swi.
Shaly, silty, low-permeability rocks with their attendant small pore throats and high
capillary pressures, tend to have very high irreducible water saturations. Just the
opposite is true for clean sands of high permeability, which have low irreducible
water saturations. Figure 5 illustrates this important concept by comparing capillary
pressure curves for four rock systems of different porosity and permeability.

Figure 5

## Structural Position within the Reservoir

We all know that gravity segregation causes a natural stratification of reservoir fluids,
with gas on top of oil, and oil over water. In the absence of rock pores, the gas, oil,
and water will form distinct layers, with sharp contacts between each phase. In a
reservoir, however, the contacts between each phase are less distinct, as illustrated
in

the

Figure

6:

Reservoir

containing

oil

and

water.

Figure 6

This diagram divides the reservoir into three levels. The upper level is mainly oil; the
lower level is all water, while the middle level shows ever-increasing concentrations
of water as depth increases. Plotted on the right-hand side is a curve of water
saturation, together with a plot of fluid pressure in the pore spaces.
When a formation is above the transition zone, i.e., at irreducible water saturation,
the product of and Sw is a constant. Variations of porosity are normal on a local
scale, caused both by changes in the depositional environment and by subsequent
diagenesis. If porosity is reduced locally, then either a greater proportion of pore
throats will be small or there will be simply fewer pore throats. Either way, the mean
radius of the pore throat r will be smaller; thus Pc will be larger, and more water can
be held in the pore maintaining the constant:

. Swi
After a zone has been analyzed on a foot-by-foot basis for porosity and water
saturation, a plot of versus Sw reveals the presence or absence of a transition
zone.
Figure 7 shows a log-log plot, where points at irreducible saturation plot along a
straight line (the red line denoting Zero Water Production in this graphic), and the
points in the transition zone plot to the right of the irreducible line.

Figure 7

## By plotting the product of . S wi, it is possible to predict certain production

characteristics. For points below irreducible saturation, some portion of water

## production is to be expected, depending on the mobility ratio, (k wo/kow), for the

particular fluids present. On the other hand, in a low-porosity, low-permeability
formation, we again see that surprisingly high water saturations can be tolerated
without fear of water production. Conversely, in other formations that exhibit good
porosity and permeability, even moderate values of S w will mean that water
production should be expected.
Again, since both capillary pressure and relative permeability data are a strong
function of pore size distribution and geometry (among other factors), they will, in
turn, often fall into groups that correlate with specific reservoir facies (Morgan and
Gordon 1970). Two samples representing two different reservoir facies may show
very different relative permeability relationships - even though their other reservoir
properties (porosity or permeability) may be very similar. Figure 8 shows water-oil
relative permeability curves for two samples with almost identical permeabilities,
taken

from

two

different

geologic

facies.

Figure 8

## The difference in the measured relative permeabilities illustrates the importance of

pore system configuration in determining fluid flow characteristics.
One important observation to be derived from evaluating capillary pressure and
relative permeability for individual geologic facies is the determination of the
producing oil-water (or gas-water) contact elevation throughout various parts of a
reservoir. This elevation can vary across a reservoir, and can be substantially
different from the free water surface elevation. The free water surface should be at a
constant elevation throughout the reservoir, providing the reservoir is in a state of
gravity-capillary equilibrium with no significant flow occurring. The producing oilwater contact is often taken as the highest elevation where 100% water is produced.
This depth will not necessarily be the same at all points in the reservoir, even
under equilibrium conditions. It will strongly depend on local capillary

pressure (water saturation versus height above the free water surface) and the
relative permeability characteristics of the rock.
Capillary Pressure and Geologic Facies
A relationship between geologic facies and capillary pressure curves is illustrated
graphically

in

Figure

9.

Figure 9

Three geologic facies (A, B, C) are shown, each having a different capillary pressure
versus water saturation relationship. On the right side of the graph, increasing
capillary pressure has been expressed in terms of height above an oil-water contact
(the conversion is for a specific set of assumed rock and fluid properties and is not a
general correlation). Note that each of the curves becomes asymptotic to some
minimum water saturation value (the irreducible water saturation), in spite of large
increases in capillary pressure (or height above the oil-water contact).
The three different geologic facies in this graphic also have greatly contrasting
permeabilities, although their porosities are similar. Capillary pressure versus
saturation data often correlate very strongly with permeability because both
properties are strongly dependent on pore throat size distribution. As illustrated in
this graphic, at a measured capillary pressure of 10 psi (equivalent to a height of
almost 25 ft (7.6 m) above the oil-water contact in this example) the water saturation
in Facies A has been reduced to the irreducible water saturation of less than 10%. At
the same height above the oil-water contact, the water saturation in Facies B could
be almost 40%. Note that this is above the irreducible water saturation of about 30%
for Facies B. At points in the reservoir where the shaly limestone Facies C is present
at the same height above the oil-water contact, the water saturation could be over
95%! In fact, the capillary pressure versus water saturation curve for Facies C
indicates that this facies would probably NOT be considered as pay in this reservoir.

## Putting It All Together - Geology and Fluids

We have just reviewed a number of factors which influence the Irreducible Water
Saturation within a formation. These factors include interactions between fluids and
rock, as well as interactions between different fluids. By examining porosity, relative
permeability, and capillary pressure relationships, along with rock texture and
structural position, it is possible to determine whether a well having high S w
calculations will actually produce water, or instead, will produce water-free.
For example, as we move toward the top of a fining-upward sequence, the decrease
in sand grain diameter will produce a corresponding decrease in pore throat radius.
This decrease in pore throat radius is accompanied by an increase in capillary
pressure, thus increasing the amount of water that can be imbibed into the system. If
we add clay or silt to this example, we can expect that microporosity will constitute a
substantial percentage of total porosity. Such a setting is bound to produce high
values of irreducible water saturations.
Both irreducible water and residual hydrocarbon saturations are strongly influenced
by rock texture, which is controlled by depositional environment. Fine-grained
sediments, usually characteristic of low-energy depositional environments, tend to
have high irreducible water with high residual hydrocarbon saturations; coarsegrained sediments, characteristic of high-energy environments, tend to have low
irreducible water saturation and low residual hydrocarbon saturation. In addition,
fine-grained sediments tend to have lower permeability than coarse-grained
sediments.
These factors must all be considered together when analyzing low resistivity pay
zones. Porosity, capillarity, relative permeability, structural position and grain size will
all influence the final evaluation of irreducible water saturation in a low resistivity pay
zone.