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EOR Screening Criteria Revisited-

Part 1 : Introduction to Screening Criteria

and Enhanced Recovery Field Projects
J.J. Taber, SPE, F.D. Martin, SPE, and R.S. Seright, SPE,
New Mexico Petroleum Recovery Research Center

Summary ria based on a combination of the reservoir and oil characteristics of

Screening criteria have been proposed for all enhanced oil recovery successful projects plus our understanding of the optimum condi-
@OR) methods. Data from EOR projects around the world have been tions needed for good oil displacement by the different EOR fluids.
examined and the optimum reservoir/oil characteristics for successful One goal is to provide realistic parameters that can be used in the
projects have been noted. The oil gravity ranges of the oils of current newer computer-assisted tools for reservoir management.
EOR methods have been compiled and the results are presented
graphically. The proposed screening criteria are based on both field EOR/Improved Oil Recovery (IOR)/Advanced Secondary Re-
results and oil recovery mechanisms. The current state of the art for covery (ASR)/Reservoir Management. In the past few years, the
all methods is presented briefly, and relationships between them are term IOR has been used increasingly instead of the traditional EOR,
described. Steamflooding is still the dominant EOR method. All or the more restrictive tertiary recovery. Most petroleum engineers
chemical flooding has been declining, but polymers and gels are be- understand the meaning of all the words and phrases, but our techni-
ing used successfully for sweep improvement and water shutoff. Only cal communications are improved if we use the terms with their in-
C02 flooding activity has increased continuously. tended technical meanings. We certainly endorse the wider use of
IOR, but we cling to the technical meanings of EOR and tertiary re-
Introduction covery. Successful enhanced recovery projects are being conducted
as tertiary, secondary, and even enhanced primary operations. The
Oil-production from EOR projects continues to supply an increas- terms should continue to be used with their evolved historic mean-
ing percentage of the worlds oil. About 3% of the worldwide pro- ings. Tertiary should not be used as a synonym for EOR because some
duction now comes from EOR. Even though EOR production in the EOR methods work quite well as either secondary or tertiary projects
U.S. appeared to peak in 1992, Fig. 1 shows that the EOR percent- (e.g.. C02 flooding), while others, such as steam- or polymer flood-
age of the U.S. production is larger than ever, because conventional ing, are most effective as enhanced secondary operations. To us, EOR
oil production in the U.S. has continued to fall. Therefore, the im- simply means that something other than plain water or brine is being
portance of choosing the best recovery method becomes increas- injected into the reservoir. We use the terms enhanced secondary or
ingly important to petroleum engineers. tertiary when necessary for clarity. Others may use the phrase
About 100 years ago, oil producers injected gas to restore pres- ASR18-22for EOR in the secondary mode. We are convinced that en-
sure to their dying oil wells. Because air was cheaper than gas, air gineers should consider this improved (enhanced or advanced) sec-
was often injected to increase production from the older fields. For ondary option much more often in the future.
many years, operators had the choice of air or gas, and sometimes
they injected both into the same reservoit2 Naturally, there were Classification of EOR Methods. Table 1 lists more than 20 EOR
safety and other problems with air. However, not until about 1928 methods that experienced intensive laboratory and, in most cases, sig-
did natural gas become the injectant of choice for pressure mainte- nificant field testing. The methods use about 15 different substances
Water injection was legalized in Pennsylvania in 1921 (it (or specific mixtures) that must be purchased and injected into the res-
was done secretly before that)? ervoir, always at costs somewhat greater than for the injection of wa-
The choice of injectants has widened considerably since those ear- ter. The economics of EOR are discussed more later, but experience
ly days, but the petroleum engineer still must choose an injection fluid shows that the best profits come only from those methods where sev-
and an overall process to try to recover the maximum amount of oil eral barrels of fluid (liquid or gas at reservoir pressure) can be injected
from the reservoir while still making a profit. Screening criteria have per barrel of incremental oil p r o d ~ c e d .This
~ ~ limits
, ~ ~ the main meth-
evolved through the years to help the petroleum engineer make these ods to either water (including heated, as steam, or as a dilute chemical
decisions?-15 Some of the early work in this field was done by Gef- solution) or one of the inexpensive gases. For some methods (e.g., mi-
before there was much field experience with most EOR meth- cellar/polymer) there have been some technical successes but rela-
ods. Many of his criteria have stood the test of time. Perhaps the best tively few economic successes. These methods are included in our
known, and most widely used, screening criteria appeared in the 1976 screening criteria because they are still being studied and applied in
and 1984 Natl. Petroleum Council (NPC) reports?,8 We comment in
the field. If oil prices rise significantly, there is hope that these meth-
Ref. 16 on some of the predictions based on these criteria. Ref. 9 is
ods might become more profitable.
one paper that we are revisiting. Although we retain the format of
We provide screening criteria for the eight methods that are either
some of the tables in Ref. 9, all have been revised. We are basing our
the most important or still have some promise. These eight methods
criteria in this paper on the results of much more field and laboratory
are shown in in Table 1, along with the number of the table in Ref.
information that has become available. Additional information (espe-
16 for those methods that are examined in detail. These current
cially on the use of gelled polymers for water shutoff) is given in Ref.
EOR or IOR methods include the three gas (nitrogen, hydrocarbon,
17, the original version of this paper.
C02), three water [micellar/polymer plus alkaline/surfactant/poly-
In recent years, computer technology has improved the applica-
mer (ASP); polymer flooding; gel treatments] and the three thermal/
tion of screening criteria through the use of artificial intelligence
mechanical (combustion, steam, surface mining) methods.
techniques, but the value of these programs depends on the accuracy
A convenient way to show these methods is to arrange them by
of the input data In this paper, we present screening crite-
oil gravity as shown in Fig. 2. This at-a-glance display also pro-
Copyright 1997 Society of Petroleum Engineers
vides approximate oil gravity ranges for the field projects now under
way. The size of the type in Fig. 2 is intended to show the relative
Original SPE manuscript receivedfor review 16 May 1996. Revised manuscript received 20 importance of each of the EOR methods in terms of current incre-
May 1997. PaperpeerapprovedGJune1997. Paper(SPE35385)firstpresentedatthe1996
SPWDOE Improved Oil Recovery Symposium held in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 21-24 April. mental oil production.

SPE Reservoir Engineering, August 1997 189

Table Number
Method (in Ref. 16)
Gas (and Hydrocarbon Solvent) Methods
Inert gas injection
Nitrogen injection 1
Flue-gas injection 1
Hydrocarbon-gas (and liquid) injection 2
1 1 / I Enriched-gasdrive
Miscible solvent (LPG or propane) flooding
COPflooding 3
, . I I .

1980 1982 1984 19S6 1981 1990 4992 1994 1996 Improved Waterflooding Methods
Alcohol-misciblesolvent flooding
Micellar/polymer(surfactant) flooding 4
Low IFT waterflooding
Alkaline flooding 4
600,wO - ASP flooding 4
Polymer flooding 5
Gels for water shutoff
Microbial injection

Thermal Methods
In-situ combustion 6
Standard forward combustion
Wet combustion
Chemical 02-enrichedcombustion
1980 1982 14111 1986 IS8 1990 1992 1994 1990 Reverse combustion
Steam and hot-water injection 7
Fig. 1-EOR production in the U.S. (data from Ref. 25).
Steam stimulation
When examining the rationale for some of the screening parame- Surface mining and extraction -
ters, it is instructive to consider the oil-displacement mechanisms for
the EOR methods. Table 2 shows that there are three main mecha-
nisms for displacing additional oil with an injected fluid (1) solvent shown as a separate method in Table 1, it is covered in Table 3 as the
extraction to achieve (or approach) miscibility, (2) interfacial-tension immiscible-gas part of each of the three gas-injection methods.
(IK) reduction, and (3) viscosity change of either the oil or water,
and/or plus additional pressure added to the injection fluid. There is Oil/Reservoir Characteristics of Successful Projects
overlap of the mechanisms. For example, IFT is lowered as miscibil-
The depth, and the corresponding oil gravity, of most of the EOR
ity is approached in the solvent methods. The reservoir and injec-
tion conditions should be chosen to optimize the displacing mecha- projects in the world are shown in Figs. 3 and 4. We have included
nisms wherever possible (e.g., use a high enough pressure to achieve projects for which data are available from a recent paper.25 We are
miscibility in solvent flooding and look for shallow reservoirs to re- more familiar with the U.S. projects (Fig. 3.) than those in other
duce wellbore heat losses in steamflooding). Note that we have added parts of the world (Fig. 4). In addition to the very broad distribution
enhanced gravity drainage by gas injection to Table 2. Although not of the EOR projects, Fig. 3 shows the general trend, ranging from
the many steam projects for the heavy oils at shallow depths in
California to the very deep projects for the lightest oils that can be


0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50 55 60 RECOVERY METHODS*
Solvent extraction and/or miscible-type processes
Nitrogen and flue gas
Solvent extraction of mined, oil-bearing ore
IFT reduction processes
Polvmer Floods __ __ __ ____-.---- Micellar/polymer flooding (sometimes included in miscible-
ts 4 type flooding above)
< In S I ~ UMmbuStlon z ASP flooding
Viscosity reduction (of oil) or viscosity increase (of driving fluid)
processes plus pressure

I Minind Steamflooding
Polymer flooding
Fig. 2 4 i l gravity range of oil that is most effective for EOR Enhanced gravity drainage by gas or steam injection
methods. Relative production (BID) is shown by size of type. Classified by the main mechanism of oil displacement (excluding gel treatments).

190 SPE Reservoir Engineering, August 1997

Oil Properties Reservoir Characteristics
Table Oil Net Average
EOR Gravity Viscosity Saturation Formation Thickness Permeability Depth Temperature
Ref. 16 Method FAPI) (cp) Composition (A PV) Type (fi) (md) (fi) (F)

Gas InjectionMethods (Miscible)

1 Nitrogen and >35fsf ~0.410.21 High percent >4Of?f Sandstone Thin unless NC > 6,000 NC
flue gas of c, to c7 or dipping
2 Hydrocarbon >23/15f <31e1 High percent >30fgf Sandstone Thin unless NC >4,000 NC
of c2 to c, or dipping
3 COP >22fEfa <lo121 High percent >20/%/. Sandstone Wide range NC >2,50Oa NC
Of c5 to c,2 or
1-3 Immiscible > 12 < 600 NC >35f70f NC NC if dipping NC > 1,800 NC
gases andor
good vertical
(Enhanced) Waterflooding
4 Micellarl >2OfEf c351s1 Light, >35fg/ Sandstone NC > t o r s f >9,00013,250 >2001g
Polymer, intermediate, preferred
ASP, and some organic
Alkaline acids for
Flooding alkaline floods
5 Polymer >15 c150,>10 NC >50fgf Sandstone NC > 1 0 f E fb <9,000 >2001140
Floodina Dreferred
6 I Combustion
I >50f?f I High-porosity
I >10 I >50C
~ 1,500 components sandstone

7 Steam > 8 to 135-1 <200,000 NC >40/E/ High-poroslty >20 >200f 2,540fd <4.50011,500 NC
1 sand/
- Surface mining 7 to 11 Zero NC >B wt% Mineable ,108 NC >3 1 NC
cold flow sand tar sand overburden to
sand ratio
NC = not critical.
Underlinedvalues represent the approximate mean or average for current field projects.
aSee Table 3 of Ref. 16.
%3md from some carbonate resewoirs if the intent is to sweep only the fracture system.
Transmissibility >20 md-Wcp
dTransmissibility > 50 md-Wcp
I OSeedepth.

miscibly displaced by dry gas or nitrogen at high pressures. The wa- ods combined. Note that the largest EOR projects (in terms of oil
ter-based methods use oils in the mid-gravity range, while the C02 production) are steamfloods, with the off-scale (Fig. 6) Duri
projects cover a fairly broad range of oil gravities between 30 and steamflood in Indonesia producing more than twice as much oil
45API. Fig. 3 confirms that all CO2-miscible projects are at depths (245,000 B D ) as any other project in the world.
greater than 2,000 ft. Fig. 4 shows that the non-U.% world distribu-
tion of projects is similar, but that there are more hydrocarbon and Suggested Criteria for EOR Methods
fewer C02 projects than in the U S .
The incremental oil production from each EOR project is shown Oil and reservoir characteristics for successful EOR methods are
in Figs. 5 and 6. The dominance of steamflooding stands out clearly given in Table 3. The table was compiled from field data for the proj-
in these figures. Not only are there far more steamfloods, but the oil ects shown in Figs. 3 through 6, and from the known oil-displace-
produced by steamflooding far exceeds that from all the other meth- ment mechanisms for each of the methods. Very brief descriptions
0 0

- 0 Hot
*so Water
5.000 5,000 P w

5, 10,000 10.000 m
d d HC Misuble
& lmmscibk

15,000 15,000

20.000 20.000
0 10 20 30 40 50 0 10 20 30 40 50


Fig. &Depth and oil gravity of producing EOR projects in the Fig. &Depth and oil gravity of producing EOR projects outside
U.S. (data from Ref. 25). the U.S. (data from Ref. 25).

SPE Reservoir Engineering, August 1997 191

1w.00 '

80.m - 245.000

Oil Gravity [ O API]

Oil Gravity [ O API]

Fig. 5-EOR productionvs. oil gravity in the U.S. (data from Ref. Fig. 6-EOR production vs. oil gravity outside the U.S. (data
24). from Ref. 25).

of these mechanism are given in the "thumbnail sketches" of the for the entire world. Thanks to efforts to reduce gas flaring, gas in-
methods in Tables 1 through 7 of Ref. 16. jection should continue to grow in importance as worldwide oil pro-
Note that we have avoided notations such as 2 (equal to or great- duction expands. After years of extensive laboratory and field expe-
er than) because we want to emphasize that the suggested parame- rience, the gas EOR methods are now well understood, and
ters are never absolute. They are intended to show approximate screening criteria can be recommended with more confidence than
ranges of the criteria for good projects. In most cases, when we show before. Although studied most extensively for C02, the concept of
such values as > x or <y, there is not a specific upper (or lower) MMP explains the efficient oil displacements by N2. hydrocarbons,
boundary to the parameter except for the limits of the oil and reser- and C02. As long as this MMP can be achieved in the reservoir,
voir characteristics, as found in nature. For example, we show that good oil recovery [greater than 90% original oil in place (OOIP) in
nitrogen floods are recommended for oils lighter than 35"API, but the region swept] should result, although C02 displacements are
this does not mean that the probability of doing miscible nitrogen usually more efficient than N2 or CH4. Even though the oil gravity/
floods drops to zero at 34"API. This obvious shortcoming of most pressure/depth (MMP) requirements are different for the three
screening criteria tables has been noted by authors who use artificial gases, Table 3 shows that there is overlap of the criteria for the three
intelligence (AI) methods to select EOR processes for specific res- methods. Thus, any of the methods will work in a high percentage
ervoirs.ll To overcome the problems that arise with rigid bound-
of the deeper reservoirs, and the final choice often depends on the
aries in their "crisp" expert systems, some A1 workers have used
local availability and cost of the gas to be injected.
"fuzzy-logic"methods to obtain much more realistic results.12
In Table 3, we attempt to show that, for a given parameter, if > x Nitrogen and Flue-Gas Injection. Other than compressed air, ni-
is feasible, %-x may be even better for a given process. By underlin- trogen and flue gas are the cheapest gases (especially in terms of vol-
ing a value, we indicate the average or mean of the parameter for that umes at reservoir temperatures and pressures) that can be injected.
EOR method. For example, for the oil gravity in miscible nitrogen They are considered together because the pressures required
floods, > 35 f 48 f means that the process should work with oils (MMP) for good displacement are similar?6 and it appears that they
greater than 3 5 q P I (if other criteria are met) and that higher-grav- can be used interchangeably for oil recovery. Indeed, at least three
ity oils ( f ) are better, and that the approximate mean or average of of the current nitrogen projects25 were operated successfully for
current miscible nitrogen projects is 48"API. The ascending arrow years as flue-gas-injection project^.^^,^^ However, corrosion was a
is meant to indicate that higher-graviq oils may be better yet. problem (especially for flue gas from internal combustion engines),
In general, the upper and lower values in Table 3 ( > or < ) have and all have switched to nitrogen injection with good results.
come from process-mechanism understanding (laboratory experi- In addition to its low cost and widespread availability, nitrogen is
ments), and they also include parameters of successful field proj- the most inert of all injection gases. Unfortunately, it has the highest
ects. For example, even though we are unaware of any miscible C02 MMP, so miscible displacement is possible only in deep reservoirs
projects in reservoirs with oils of less than 29"API, we list 22"API with light oils.
as the lower limit because extensive laboratory work shows that the Hydrocarbon Injection. As one of the oldest EOR methods, hy-
required pressure [i.e., minimum miscibility pressure (MMP), see drocarbon injection was practiced for years before the MMP con-
Table 3 of Ref. 161 can be met in typical west Texas reservoirs with cept was well understood. When a surplus of a low-molecular-
oils of that gravity. Also, we have lowered the oil gravity require- weight hydrocarbon existed in some fields, they were often injected
ment to > 12"API for immiscible C02 floods to include a success- to improve oil recovery. The three different methods were described
ful 13"API project in Turkey (see Fig. 6). by Sta1k1.1~~~and are summarized very briefly in Table 2 of Ref. 16,
including first-contact-miscible (LPG solvent), condensing (or en-
Method/Criteria Descriptions riched) gas drive and the vaporizing (or high-pressure) gas drive. In
Gas-Injection Methods. Gas injection, the oldest EOR method, is terms of the pressure required for efficient miscible displacement,
a bright spot in EOR technology. Although most EOR production we rank the hydrocarbon gases between the very high pressures re-
comes from steamflooding, Figs. 5 and 6 show that gas-injection quired for nitrogen and the more modest range of pressures for C02
methods are next in importance and appear to be growing through- (see Table 3 of Ref. 16 for the reservoir depth requirement for differ-
out the world. Oil production from C02 flooding is the only EOR ent gravity oils). This ranking is correct for methane. However, if a
method that has continued to increase (Fig. 1) in the U.S. in spite of shallower reservoir depth requires a lower pressure, it can be
various declines in oil prices through the years, and more projects achieved by adding more enriching hydrocarbons (usually C2
are planned. Hydrocarbon gas injection is second to steamflooding through C4) if the economics are s a t i s f a ~ t o r y .This~ ~ , fine-tuning

192 SPE Reservoir Engineering, August 1997

IO.0W 1 bbl=42 US. allons=0.159 m3
1 ft3=0.0283 m 93
9000 1,000 ft3 (Mscf or Mcf) =28.3 m3

Standard conditions in US. oil industry (may vary in some
states) = 1 atm and 60F (1.013 bar, 14.7 psia)
COPdensity at standard conditions = 0.001868 g/cm3
two or 1.87 kg/m3=0.1166 Ibm/ft3
17,150 ft3 of C02 at 60F (1 atm) =(weighs)
1 ton US. (2,000 Ibm)
1 ton U.S.=2,00OIbm=907 kg (1 kg=2.2Ibm)
1 ton US. =0.907 metric ton or tonne
1tonne CO2 = 18,904 scf at 60F and 1 atm
1 Gt (gigatonne)= 1 billion metric tons
1 bbl oil (35API) = 0.16982 ton US. = 0.16895 tonne
1 MscWbbl = 0.31 324 tonne C02/tonne oil (35OAPI)
Some factors are rounded for convenienceand quick estimates.
1 Crude oil density typically ranaes from 0.8 to 0.95 dcm3 or 800 to 950 kdm3.
ing projects (shown as polymer or micellar/polymer) in the world
and that these projects contribute little to worldwide EOR produc-
l l l l l l l I 1 1 1
0 tion when compared to steamflooding and gas injection. For our
0 I 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 l o l l I2
screening criteria, we concentrate most on current technology that
DEPTH IN THOUSANDS OF FEET can be applied profitably today. Therefore, we have limited our cri-
teria in Table 3 to these broad methods that are often included in the
Fig. 7-Increase in C02 MMP and fracture pressure with depth general term chemical flooding. We are not aware of any pure al-
for PermianBasin reservoirs. Increasingtemperaturewith depth kaline floods at present. There are ASP projects that are hoped to be
is incorporated in the MMP correlation show (from Ref. 33). a low-cost improvement over micellar/polymer or surfactant flood-
ing. Therefore, we have dropped the separate alkaline flooding cate-
method is practiced most in Canada where cheap C02 is in short gory and combined it with the two main surfactant (IFT lowering)
supply and hydrocarbon gases are available. methods as shown in Table 3 of this paper and Table 4 of Ref. 16:
C@ Flooding. There may be more optimism for C02 flooding micellar/polymer and ASP and alkaline flooding. There is still some
in the U.S. than for any of the other EOR methods. As noted before, excellent chemical flooding research and development work under-
it is the only method that has had a continuous increase in production way in laboratories around the world.
since C02 flooding started more than 35 years ago. The technical The polymer injection projects (especially in the U.S., see Fig. 3)
and economic reasons for the success of C02 flooding have been ex- far outnumber the other chemical flooding methods. However, there
plained before?O In the Permian Basin, a large pipeline supply of has been some confusion between polymer flooding for enhanced oil
natural C02 is available at a low cost compared to methane, and the recovery and the injection of gelling polymers for water shutoff in ei-
pipelines are being extended to more field^?^,^* The screening cri- ther injection or production wells. Therefore, they are considered sep-
teria in Table 3 of this paper and Table 3 of Ref. 16show that a fairly arately in Table 3 of this paper and in Tables 8 and 9 of Ref. 17.
wide range of crude oils and reservoir depths can meet the require- Wettability is another area of importance to waterflooding, and
ments for miscible C02 flooding. significant progress on understanding the influence of wettability
The density (and therefore the solubility of C02 in oil) decreases on oil recovery is being made.40,41However, it would be premature
with temperature, so the MMP required for a given oil must increase to try to include wettability in our screening criteria at this time.
. ~ ~ the reservoir temperature nor-
with higher t e m p e r a t ~ r e s Since Micellar/Polymer,AS8 and Alkaline Flooding. The goal of the
mally increases with depth, the MMP must also increase with depth, chemical methods is to reduce the IET between oil and water, gener-
as shown in Fig. 7 for a 40APIoil in typical West Texas reservoirs. ally to displace discontinuous trapped oil (remaining oil saturation,
Fortunately, the pressure required to fracture reservoirs increases ,So,.) that remains after a waterflood. Because it is approximately 10
much faster than temperature with depth. Therefore, there is an times more difficult to replace trapped oil than continuous the
MMP window of opportunity, as shown in Fig. 7.33Oils heavier surfactant slugs for these tertiary processes must be very efficient.
than 40API would have an MMP/temperature/depth correlation The oil-displacement mechanics are well understood, and many for-
above the line shown in Fig. 7; the pressures required are given in mulations have been devised to give very high recoveries in labora-
Table 3 of Ref 16. The MMP requirements for N2 and C& would tory experiments with actual reservoir rocks and fluids.
have correlation lines with different slopes that are well above that There have been some technical successes in the field43*44;how-
shown only for C02 on Fig. 7. ever, there have been fewer economic successes because the cost of
The correlations in Fig. 7 and Table 3 of Ref. 16come from many the injectant is too high. Therefore, there has been an effort to lower
sources and are reviewed briefly in Refs. 30,33, and 34. Most of the the injectant cost by adding more alkali and less surfactant or co-
relationships among temperature, oil composition and pressure solvent to the formulations during the past few years?4,45,46 These
come from extensive work by various workers, primarily on oils mixtures are often called ASP processes, and very large slugs can
from fields in the U.S.35-38The MMP screening criteria in Fig. 7 be injected because the cost is low compared with the classic micel-
should work well for oils that have hydrocarbon distributions simi- lar/polymer formulations. The alkali costs much less than the sur-
lar to the average mid-gravity crude oils of the US.,especially those factant or cosolvent, and it helps to lower the IFT and reduce adsorp-
from the Permian basin of West Texas and Southeast New Mexico. tion of the surfactant on the rock!7,48 In one case, workers were able
However, if the oil differs significantly from the types of crudes for to reduce surfactant concentration by 10 times by adding low-cost
which the correlation was developed, additional laboratory tests alkali, and the formulation still provided very good oil rec0very.4~
may be required. Hagedorn and On39 have shown that a high per- The ASP process has also been tested in the field.50 A recent field-
centage of multiring aromatics will raise the MMP significantly be- wide project in Wyoming reports costs of U.S. $1.60 to $3.50/bbl of
cause they are extracted so poorly by the CO;? phase. Table 4 gives incremental oil produced?l
conversions useful when reading C02-flooding literature. Polymer Floods and Gel Treatments.In the past, polymer floods
and gel treatments were often lumped together as a single technolo-
Chemical and Polymer Flooding and Gel Treatment Methods. gy.52 However, these processes have very different technical objec-
Figs. 3 through 6 show that there are relatively few chemical flood- tives, so we consider them separately. The distinction between a mo-

SPE Reservoir Engineering, August 1997 193

bility-control process (e.g., a polymer flood) and a blocking If injectors are fractured, the question is, Will the increased injec-
treatment (e.g., involving crosslinked polymers or other gels) is an tivity from fracturing outweigh the increased risk of channeling?
important concept to understand. For polymer floods and other mo- (Later, we suggest that horizontal injection wells may alleviate in-
bility-control processes, the mobility-control agent should sweep jectivity limitations in some cases.)
evenly through the reservoir. In other words, the polymer should Cost-effectiveness also affects the temperature constraints for
penetrate as far as possible into the low-permeability zones because polymer flooding. More than 95% of previous polymer floods were
that action provides the driving force for displacing and producing applied in reservoirs with temperatures of less than 200F?9 This
unswept oil. In contrast, for gel treatments, gel penetration should fact reflects widespread doubt that HPAM and xanthan polymers are
be minimized in less-permeable, oil-productive zones. Any gel that sufficiently stable at elevated temperatures. Literature reports60
forms in the oil-productive zones reduces the oil-displacement effi- question whether these polymers are stable for field applications
ciency and retards oil p r o d ~ c t i o n . ~ ~ above 175F. More stable polymers (e.g., scleroglucan and acryla-
For existing gels and gelants that are used as blocking agents, the mide copolymers and terpolymers) are available for high-tempera-
following behavior is observed during flow through porous me- ture use, but the cost and cost-effectiveness of these polymers have
dia.5456 First, before gel aggregates grow to a size that approaches limited their application to date.60Of course, significantly higher oil
the size of pore throats, gelants flow through porous media like solu- prices and/or breakthroughs in reducing polymer production costs
tions without crosslinkers. Second, after gelation (or after gel aggre- could change this situation.
gates grow to the size of pore throats), gel movement through porous For many years, water salinity has been an important issue in
rock is negligible. Third, in porous rock, the transition from a freely polymer flooding.60 In the range from 0 to 1% TDS, the viscosities
flowing gelant to an immobile gel occurs abruptly. After gel forma- of HPAM solutions decrease substantially with increased salinity.
tion, crosslinked polymers, gels, gel aggregates, and the so-called Thus, high-salinity HPAM solutions are relatively ineffective dur-
colloidal-dispersion gels do not flow through porous rock like ing polymer flooding. Differences of opinion existed concerning the
viscous polymer solutions.55 Also, they do not enter and block the viability of injecting low-salinity HPAM solutions into reservoirs
most-permeable strata first and then sequentially enter and block with high-salinity waters. An important paper that addressed this is-
progressively less-permeable zones. Gelants and polymer solutions sue was presented by Maith6I In a well-documented field study, he
enter all zones sim~ltaneously.~~ (Of course, the distance of poly- demonstrated the conditions needed for low-salinity HPAM solu-
mer or gelant penetration depends directly on the permeability.) Un- tions to be effective in high-salinity reservoirs.
derstanding these concepts is particularly important for projects that In reviewing literature reports of polymer floods, we often noted
were designed as polymer floods but that used hydrolyzed polyacry- considerable uncertainty in assessing the benefits after a given project
lamide (HPAM) crosslinked with aluminum citrate (i.e., the col- was completed. Most previous polymer floods used relatively small
loidal-dispersion gels).57For these projects, an important question quantities of polymer (both in terms of polymer concentration and
is, Would the field response have been better if HPAM had been in- bank size).59 Consequently, relatively small IOR values (1 to 5%
jected without aluminum itr rate?'^^ OOIP) were often projected that resulted in small alterations of the
Polymer Flooding. Over the past 35 years, a large number of poly- oil-production decline curves and the WOR curves. Commonly, these
mer floods have been applied over a remarkably wide range of small alterations were difficult to discern when comparing the actual
condition^^**^^: reservoir temperatures from 46 to 235F; average polymer-flood response with the projected waterflood response.
es from 0.6 to 15,000 md; oil viscosities from In contrast, several polymer floods stand out that showed defini-
0.01 to 1,494 cp; net pay from 4 to 432 ft; and resident brine salini- tive responses, such as at the Marmu1,62 C0urtenay,6~
ties from 0.3 to 21.3% total dissolved solids (TDS).At project start- and D a q i ~ fields. ~ g ~ ~Properties of these successful polymer floods
up, the percent of OOIP ranged from 36 to 97.1%, and the producing are listed in Table 5 of Ref. 16 along with median values for all poly-
water/oil ratio (WOR) ranged from 0 to 100. Narrower ranges of mer floods that were applied during the 1980s. The four successful
values for the relatively small number of current polymer floods are floods listed in this table had a number of features in common. These
given inTable 5 of Ref. 16. During the 1980s, polymer floods were characteristics may be useful as screening criteria for todays eco-
applied in sand or sandstone reservoirs about four times more fre- nomic environment. First, the floods were applied in high-perme-
quently than in carbonate r e ~ e r v o i r sIn
. ~concept,
~ a polymer flood ability ( > 0.87 darcy) sands and low-temperature (86 to 136F) res-
could improve sweep efficiency during any waterflood. However, ervoirs. High oil saturations (71 to 92% OOIP) were present at
a number of technical and economic factors have limited the ap- project startup, and the oil/water viscosity ratios (15 to 114) at reser-
plication of successful polymer floods. The cost effectiveness of voir temperature were relatively high. The injected polymer solu-
polymers (i.e., the mobility reduction or viscosity provided per unit tions contained relatively high HPAM concentrations (900 to 1,500
cost of polymer) is the main economic limitation. For example, if the ppm) in low-salinity waters, and large quantities of polymer (162 to
cost of acrylamide/acrylate copolymers (HPAM) and xanthan poly- 520 lbm polymer/acre-ft) were injected. Finally, the incremental oil
mers were substantially lower, higher polymer concentrations and recoveries (11to 30% OOIP or 155 to 499 bbl oil/acre-ft) were high.
larger polymer-bank sizes could be afforded in a given application. Gel Treatments.Gel treatments have been applied under conditions
This, in turn, would lead to greater oil-recovery efficiencies, higher as diverse as those listed previously for polymer flood^.^^,^^ As men-
profits, and a wider range of potential applications. tioned earlier, the technical objective of a gel treatment should be very
Cost-effectiveness also impacts the permeability constraints for different from that of a polymer flood. In most cases, the objective of
polymer flooding. For a given polymer, chemical retention in- a gel treatment is to prevent channeling of fluid (usually water) with-
creases and the rate of polymer propagation decreases with decreas- out damaging hydrocarbon productivity. After extensive discussions
ing rock permeability. Current high-molecular-weight polymers with experts from the oil and service ~ o m p a n i e s ? we ~ , ~developed
often experience high retention and low propagation rates for rock criteria for selection of gel-treatment candidates for injection and pro-
permeabilities of less than 100 md.60 This permeability constraint duction wells. These criteria and additional discussion of gel treat-
can be relaxed by use of polymers with lower molecular weights. ments are given in Refs. 17 and 66 through 70.
However, the viscosity provided by a polymer decreases with de-
creasing molecular weight, so more polymer (and a higher cost per Thermal/MechanicalMethods for Heavier Oils and Tar Sands.
viscosity unit) is needed as the rock permeability and the maximum Thermal methods account for the biggest share of the worlds en-
allowable polymer molecular weight decrease. hanced oil production. The largest EOR operations in many countries
An important issue related to reservoir permeability is that of in- (e.g., Canada, Colombia, Germany, Indonesia, Trinidad, the U.S.,and
jectivity (injection rate per pressure drop). In wells that are not frac- Venezuela) are either steamfloods or surface-mining operations. In
tured, injection of viscous polymer solutions will necessarily de- the past, the production of bitumen from tar sands has not normally
crease injectivity. To maintain the waterflood injection rates, the been included in EOR screening criteria or surveys, perhaps because
selected polymer-injection wells must allow higher injection pres- the mining operations are not considered a part of reservoir engineer-
sures. This requirement becomes increasingly difficult to fulfill as ing. However, the resource is so important that hydrocarbon recovery
the formation permeability decreases unless the wells are fractured. from tar sands should be included in listings of EOR or IOR pro-

194 SPE Reservoir Engineering, August 1997

cesses. There is a very strong effort to try to recover these extremely tight, especially because the heavy oil has less value than higher-
viscous oils by in-situ methods 71 to avoid the cost of surface mining gravity crudes. In recent years, the cogeneration of steam and elec-
and to open vast deeper reserves. One method that shows promise tric power has been very beneficial to both the economics and envi-
uses horizontal wells in a variation of steamflooding known as steam- ronmental problem^.^^,^^
assisted gravity drainage (SAGD)?2-74This mechanism is akin to the Steamflooding was probably the first EOR method to take advan-
enhanced gravity drainage by immiscible gas injection mentioned tage of the benefits of horizontal wells.90 References indicate that
previously and for which screening criteria are given in Table 3. In their use and other advanced engineering methods should make it
general, the screening criteria for SAGD and steamflooding are simi- possible to extend steamflooding to both lighter and heavier oils.89
lar except that the depth, viscosity, and oil gravity ranges should be Laboratory tests show that steamflooding is an efficient mechanism
extended to include the tar sands. for displacing light Several field tests have also been con-
Thermal EOR projects have been successful for more than 30 ducted in light-oil reservoirs, and a few have been successful.9*,93
years, and the methods have been described in the l i t e r a t ~ r e . ~ ~ - The
~ ~ Dun project in Indonesia is sometimes referred to as a light-oil
Brief descriptions of the combustion and steamflooding methods are project because its 22"API oil is outside Unitar's definition of heavy
given in Tables 6 and 7 of Ref. 16. We comment here on only a few oil 10to 2O'API inclusive.94 As the world's largest EOR project, the
aspects that relate to screening criteria. In general, thermal methods Duri steamflood is certainly successful (see Fig. 6). However, its
have been used for those heavy-oil reservoirs that cannot be produced starting oil saturation of 63% is near the average of the successful
in any other way because the oil is too viscous to flow without the ap- steamfloods in the world. Most of the other light-oil steamfloods had
plication of heat and pressure. To be produced at profitable rates, the much lower oil saturations, so economic success was more difficult.
sands must have a high permeability and oil saturations must be high In Table 3, we left a question mark for the upper limit to the oil gravity
at the start of the process. Therefore, the successful projects are al- for steamflooding a medium-gravity oil that could be waterflooded as
most always enhanced secondary (or even enhanced primary because well as steamflooded.The steamflood should produce much more oil,
primary production was essentially nil in many fields). but an effective waterflood will be cheaper. It will take a careful eco-
In-Situ Combustion. In-situ combustion seems like an ideal EOR nomic analysis of each potential light-oil steamflood to determine
method because of the following. whether the additional oil will pay for the additional cost of the steam-
1. It utilizes the two cheapest and most plentiful of all EOR injec- flood. It does appear that light-oil steamfloods should always be
tants: air and water. planned as enhanced secondary operations.
2. For fuel, it bums about 10%of the least desirable fraction of the At the other end of the oil-gravity-steamflooding spectrum are the
oil, and may upgrade the rest. aforementioned SAGD projects in heavy-oil or tar sands. Although
3. It works over a wider range of field conditions than steam-
different techniques are under development, almost all these require
flooding, especially in deep reservoirs.
one or more horizontal wells to inject the steam and withdraw the
This complicated process has been studied e x t e n ~ i v e l yand~~
melted b i t ~ m e n . 9Normally,
~ the steam is injected into the upper
tried in many different types of reservoirs?8-80 However, at arecent
well of two parallel horizontal wells. With the application of hot
symposium on in-situ combustion, Farouq Ahs1 claimed that "in-
steam and pressure, the tar melts and flows by gravity to the lower
situ combustion remains the most tantalizing EOR method." At the
well, where it is pumped to the surface.
same symposium, Sarathi and Olseng2showedthat only one of eight
Mining and Extraction. Although not normally listed with EOR
cost-shared projects was an economic success, but that project pro-
screening criteria, we include surface mining because the tar sands
vided valuable information on how to engineer a successful project.
According to T ~ r t aair , ~injection
~ must start in the uppermost part are such an important hydrocarbon resource and the production of
of the reservoir, so that the combustion front can propagate down- synthetic crude from recovered bitumen keeps i n ~ r e a s i n g .In ~~,~~
dip, preferably with a linedrive well configuration. Turta also de- general, mining is used only when the oil is so viscous that it cannot
scribed benefits of horizontal wells that have shown promising re- be recovered by any other technique because the mining and up-
sults in two Canadian combustion projects. grading of the bitumen are more costly than in-situ recovery meth-
Efforts are continuing to improve the combustion process and to ods. For this reason, the tar sands must have a high oil (bitumen) sat-
apply it to different types of fields. For example, oxygen-enriched uration and the ratio of overburden to tar sand must be low as shown
fireflooding continues to look promising for reservoirs that require in the screening criteria of Table 3. As mentioned in the previous
large volumes of gas at high flow rates where oxygen can be cheaper section, there is an increased effort to produce these viscous hydro-
than air.84 Newer materials and technology should help solve some carbons by in-situ methods, such as the SAGD process.
of the field problems.84 In another application, horizontal wells are
being planned to improve light-oil, in-situ combustion projects (31 Conclusions
to 42"API) in North and South Dakota. Air injection has been under 1. Screening criteria and brief descriptions are presented for the
way since 1981. The operator hopes that horizontal wells will in- major EOR methods. The criteria are based on oil-displacement
crease the recovery from the current 20 to 30% OOIP to 50% mechanisms and the results of EOR field projects. The depth, oil
OOIP.85 Deeper, light-oil reservoirs with significant dip are also tar- gravity, and oil production from hundreds of projects are displayed
gets for a new method of in-situ combustion that might be consid- in graphs to show the wide distribution and relative importance of
ered another variation of enhanced gravity drainage by nitrogen or the methods. Steamflooding continues to be the dominant method,
flue gas.86 In this process, air is injected in the formation, and the but hydrocarbon injection and C02 flooding are increasing.
resulting combustion front moves downdip to displace the oil either 2. If only oil gravity is considered, the results show that there is
miscibly or immiscibly by the flue gas produced from the combus- a wide choice of effective methods that range from miscible recov-
t i ~ nCombustion
. ~ ~ continues to have great promise for a much wid- ery of the lightest oil by nitrogen injection to steamflooding and sur-
er range of fields than the original heavy-oil targets, especially in face mining for heavy oil and tar sands. However, there is often a
deeper reservoirs. However, it is a complicated method with safety wide overlap in choices.
and corrosion problems that always need attention. These problems 3. With low oil prices, there is less chemical flooding of the inter-
and their solutions were described in a recent review.88 mediate-gravity oils that are normally waterflooded. Polymer
Steamflooding. Steamflooding is the oldest commercial EOR flooding continues to show promise, especially if projects are
method; the oil-displacement mechanisms are well understood. started at high oil saturations.
Much of the current emphasis is on improving the economics
through better reservoir management.89 As for screening criteria,
the observations in our earlier paper9 still apply: i.e., good projects Acknowledgments
require thick, shallow deposits with high oil saturations and good We thank Tommy Morris for assistance in screening many reser-
es. In times of low oil prices, the economics are very voirs for C02 flooding potential, Mailin Seldal and Steve Anderson

SPE Reservoir Engineering, August 1997 195

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95. Palmgren, C. and Renard, G.: ScreeningCriteria for the Application of
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off With Polymer Gel Using Temperature Modeling and Selective Steam Injection and Horizontal Wells, Proc. 8th EAPG Improved Oil
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SPE Reservoir Engineering, August 1997 I97

Metric Conversion Factors guished Lectureron EOR and was named a Distinguished Mem-
ber of SPE in 1994.F. David Martin is Manager and Chief Operat-
atm X 1.013 250* E+05 =Pa ing Officer of Strategic Technology Resources LLC, a tech-
"MI 141.5/(131.5 + "MI) =g/cm3 nology-development company based in New Mexico. Martin
bar X 1.0* E+05 =Pa has more than 35 years' petroleum industry experience. He
bbl X 1.589 873 E-01 =m3 worked at PRRC from 1976 to 1996, serving as Director during
cp x 1.0* E-03 =Pa.s 1987-96. In that capacity, he supervised research on improved
ft X3.048* E-01 = m oil recovery, including Cop and chemical flooding. He holds a
ft3 x 2.831 685 E-02 =m3 BS degree in chemical engineering from Texas Tech U. and an
"F ('F-32)/1.8 = "C MS degree in petroleum engineering from New Mexico Tech.
gal X 3.785 412 E-03 =m3 Martin has 16 patents and has written more than 50 technical
lbm X4.535 924 E-01 =kg papers relatedto petroleumproductionand of the chapter on
Ibm mol x 4.535 924 E-01 = h 0 1 "Reservoir Engineering" in the Standard Handbook of fetro-
psi X 6.894 757 E+OO=Wa leum and Natural Gas Engineering. Martin served as 1987-90
SPE Director for the Southwest Region and on several Society
ton X 9.071 847 E- 01 =Mg committees. Randy Seright is a Senior Engineer at the PRRC. He
tonne X 1.0" E+OO =Mg holds a PhD degree in chemical engineering from the U. of Wis-
*Conversion factor is exact. SPERE consin, Madison. Program Chairman for the 1998 SPE/DOE Im-
proved Oil RecoverySymposium and a member of the Editorial
Review Committee, Seright was a 1993-94 SPE Distinguished
Joseph J. Taber was the first Director and is now DirectorEmeritus Lecturer and 1995 Program Chairman for the SPE International
of the Petroleum Recovery Research Center (PRRC), a division Symposium on Oilfield Chemistry.
of the New Mexico Inst. of Mining and Technology, where he
continues his study of advanced recovery methods. He pre-
viously was a professorof petroleumengineering and chemistry
at the U. of Pittsburghand Senior Project Chemist with Gulf R&D
Co., where he worked on new oil-recovery methods, especially
horizontalwells for EOR and waterflooding. His recent work has
dealt with C02 and EOR as they relateto environmental issues.
He holds a Bs degree from Muskingum (Ohio) College and a
PhDdegreefromtheU,ofPittsburgh.Taberwasa1989-90Distin- Taber Martin Seright

198 SPE Reservoir Engineering, August 1997