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Excerpt from the Proceedings of the COMSOL Users Conference 2007 Grenoble

COMSOL 2D Simulation of Heavy Oil Recovery by Steam

Assisted Gravity Drainage
I.I. Bogdanov *), K. El Ganaoui and A.M. Kamp
Centre Huile Lourde Ouvert et Expérimental (CHLOE)
Affiliated to the University of Pau, France

*Corresponding author: CHLOE, UPPA, batiment IFR, rue Jules Ferry, BP 27540,
64075 Pau Cedex, France
e-mail : igor.bogdanov@univ-pau.fr

Abstract: Multi-physics flexibility and flexibility of COMSOL. For this reason we

computational performance of COMSOL gave modeled the process using COMSOL. Such
us the idea to model SAGD (“steam assisted modeling is not straightforward, and requires
gravity drainage”) one of the popular thermal coupling of an energy balance, and
method of oil recovery. The modeling is far from phases/components mass balances, the
being straightforward and requires solving a components being under phase equilibrium at
system of non-linear PDE for thermal multiphase reservoir conditions.
flow under conditions of thermodynamic (phase) Generally speaking, the choice of an
equilibrium. This paper presents main results of application mode for the model equations seems
our work on constructing the SAGD model and to be not unique in COMSOL. For example, the
offers the general framework for such kind of flow equations can be taken from Earth Science
modeling. The results of computations in Module or modeled via PDE Application Mode.
COMSOL are directly juxtaposed with the Although it would be both interesting and
similar computational results obtained by well- instructive to make a comparative study for
known reservoir simulator STARS. various COMSOL functionalities we’ve
Keywords: multiphase flow, thermodynamic preferred for the first time to rely on our base
equilibrium, gravity drainage, oil recovery, PDE knowledge of reservoir simulation principles and
application mode. short experience in dealing with COMSOL. Thus
the conventional (for reservoir numerical
1. Introduction applications) approach underlies the 2D model
and in particular, the selection of primary
Conventional hydrocarbon resources become variables and governing equations.
scarcer every day, while world energy needs The physical idea of the SAGD,
continue to increase. For this reason, energy mathematical and numerical models used are
producing companies increasingly exploit non- presented in the next three sections. The choice
conventional hydrocarbon resources such as of the application mode, the boundary
heavy oil and bitumen. Large amounts of such conditions, the finite elements type and the need
resources exist in for example Canada, Russia of solution regularization technique are
and Venezuela. Because of their large viscosity, discussed. Then the first results of 2D SAGD
production of such oils is frequently done simulation are presented and discussed in the
through heating, in particular by means of steam fifth section. In particular, the possible
injection. improvements of the model performance are
A recovery process that has gained much proposed.
popularity in recent years is the “steam assisted
gravity drainage” (SAGD) [1]. It consists of 2. Physical background
steam injection through a horizontal well bore
into an oil reservoir. The steam penetrates the Two physical effects underlie the recovery
porous medium surrounding the wellbore, heats method. First one is the well-known
the oil which at its turn drains to another phenomenon of rapidly decreasing oil viscosity
horizontal well beneath the injection well. The when temperature increases. The second one is
flow in the porous medium is multiphase (oil, gravity based drainage of preheated and hence
water, gas) and multi-component (one or several much more mobile oil to a production well. The
hydrocarbon components and water). Although thermal energy is provided by steam injection via
dedicated software for simulation of such an injection well. Due to density contrast
processes exists, it lacks the multi-physics between steam and oil, the former will flow
Excerpt from the Proceedings of the COMSOL Users Conference 2007 Grenoble

upward to the top of reservoir under the action of ε∂ t ( ρ h S h ) + ∇ ⋅ ( ρ h u h ) = 0 (3.2)

gravity force while for the same reason preheated
oil and liquid water will flow in the opposite where phase flow u is described by generalized
direction. Consider the so-called generalized Darcy' law (2.1), ε is porosity, S phase
Darcy' law for phase flow through a porous saturation. As the temperature will not be
medium, which can be written as uniform in the reservoir, the total thermal energy
u p = − Kη p ⋅ (∇Pp + ρge z ) (2.1) conservation equation which includes solid
(index “s”) and fluid phases (index “f”)
where u stands for local phase flow (Darcy' contributions under assumption of local thermal
velocity), P is phase pressure, η = k r / µ equilibrium (one-temperature approach),
complements the model
relative phase mobility, K and kr are
absolute and phase relative permeability, ρ, µ ∂ t (E s + E f )+ ∇ ⋅ (U f − λ∇T ) = 0 (3.3)
phase density and viscosity, respectively, g Here E is volumetric internal energy, Uf is
gravity acceleration constant and “p” phase
index. Hereinafter we'll neglect the difference total volumetric flow of thermal energy, λ
between the phase pressures which is called reservoir thermal conductivity coefficient, T
capillary pressure (see the discussion on the temperature. The total flow Uf comprises fluid
subject in the subsection 4.1). Initially the phase flows, U p = ρ p h p , p=w,g,h , where h
reservoir is in vertical (gravity) equilibrium (see
for details subsection 3.3 below). After injection is specific enthalpy, hg = hw + Λ , Λ is specific
of sufficient amount of steam, the “steam heat of water vaporization.
chamber” is formed around the injection site, i.e. Finally, pore volume conservation constraints
the region with temperature which corresponds phase saturations in usual manner
to steam/liquid water equilibrium at local
reservoir pressure. Due to relatively high Sw + Sg + Sh = 1 (3.4)
mobility of steam the pressure gradient, P ,
across the “steam chamber” is small and it is 3.2 Constitutive relations
gravity driven flow, u ∝ η ⋅ ρg , which
dominates both in the “steam chamber” and in The system of equations (3.1-3.4),(2.1) takes
the rest of the reservoir. So to produce the oil one into account the main hydrodynamic features of
doesn't even need to keep high pressure the SAGD-like process under consideration. It
conditions on the injection well. provides the relations between physical variables
such as temperature, pressure and volume
3. Mathematical model fractions of fluids in the porous medium
(saturations). It has to be completed however
The 2D model of three phase two component with a set of constitutive relations which gives a
(water and oil) flow under non-isothermal local phase flows description depending on local
condition (steam injection) comprises the pressure, temperature and phase saturations. For
component mass/total thermal energy relative phase permeabilities the relationships
conservation equations which are completed by based on van Genuchten-Mualem model [3]
the constitutive relations and typical initial and have been used for water (wetting phase) and gas
boundary conditions description. (non-wetting). Assuming that oil is
intermediately wetting phase we’ve taken
advantage of Brooks-Corey-Burdine model.
3.1 Governing equations
Oliveira and Demond [2] have shown in
Component mass conservation equations are particular, that this model was one of the best in
written for the water, which can be presented in systematic comparison on available experimental
liquid (index “w”) and gas state (index “g”), and data on three phase relative permeability
for the oil which is assumed to be uniform non- measurements carried out for last decades.
volatile liquid (index “h”). The equations are as Conventional data available elsewhere for the
follows physical properties of saturated steam/liquid
water system have been used to relate such
ε∂ t (ρw S w + ρ g S g )
properties as viscosity, density and enthalpy on
pressure and temperature variations. Typical for
+ ∇ ⋅ (ρ w u w + ρ g u g ) = 0 (3.1) heavy oil exponentially decaying with
Excerpt from the Proceedings of the COMSOL Users Conference 2007 Grenoble

temperature viscosity given by the following tables of saturated steam/water properties, is

relation given. The injected steam quality is equal 1 (no
liquid water is injected).
µ h = µ 0 exp{b / T, K } (3.5)
4. Numerical model
has been chosen for our purposes. The equation
(3.5) is one of the built-in functions in well- In this part of paper the motivation of the
known and popular reservoir simulator STARS application mode choice and key features of
COMSOL numerical model are presented and
[4]. Here µ 0 and b are parameters, temperature
discussed in some details.
T,K should be taken in absolute units.
4.1 Choice of primary variables and
3.3 Initial and boundary conditions application modes
The equations (3.1-3.4),(2.1) have been Our recent experience in the numerical
applied in 2D rectangular region with aspect modeling of multiphase flow through porous
ratio 2: (-L≤x≤L, 0≤z≤L), and open circular media and implementation of reservoir
hole in the middle which bear the injection well simulations in research work turned out to be in
boundary conditions (see Fig.1). We choose the favor of certain rules in constructing of the
vertical (gravity) equilibrium state like the initial COMSOL model for SAGD-like process. First
one. As the capillary pressure is neglected, it of all, the pressure-saturation primary variables
implies that only one phase (oil) is mobile at t=0 set has been chosen. Generally in reservoir
and the pressure undergoes linear variation with simulation the pressure variation between
depth, injection and production sites is smaller than
initial reservoir pressure, ∆P << Pini . Moreover,
Pini(t=0,x,y)=Ptop+ρhg(ztop-z) (3.6) frequently the capillary pressure, Pc , which can
play an important role locally in the flow region,
The initial temperature and saturations are is even smaller, than pressure drop, Pc << ∆P.
uniform Under these conditions it is clear that the choice
of pressure-pressure primary variables may be
T(t=0)=Tini , S w(t=0)=Sm, Sh (t=0)=1- Sm prohibitive because of usual computational errors
(3.7) which can affect drastically the numerical
where S m is critical water saturation in a sense Furthermore, the degenerate case, from the
that krw(Sm)=0 . On the left, right and top view-point of pressure-pressure variables, of
boundaries, (x=±L, z=L), the no-flow and zero capillary pressure is common in practice of
thermal insulation conditions are given. On the reservoir simulations like in particular, in our
bottom, (z=0), the constant (initial) pressure and case.
Then the choice of primary variables implies
thermal convective flow conditions, n· ∇T =0 , that PDE application mode is currently most
are imposed. Similar to this condition for the appropriate for the model (3.1)- (3.4),(2.1).
flow of thermal energy, no diffusive
contribution conditions is given, n· ∇S p =0 , 4.2 Phase equilibrium model
p=o,w, for the phase flows at the bottom. In the
While the thermal equilibrium between all
subsection 4.3 we discuss the nature of the
the phases is overall valid, the saturated
duffusion-like term in the mass conservation
steam/liquid water equilibrium which implies
equations (3.1-3.2). The latter boundary
that pressure and temperature are not
condition for phase flow turned out to be a
independent, is valid only if both steam and
compromise between the nature of corresponding
water are presented. In fact, it means that for
equations and a requirement to apply general
three phase and two phase sub-regions the set of
thermodynamic equilibrium condition on the
independent variables is different.
bottom boundary.
To the best of our knowledge, the variables
Finally, on the boundary of circular hole of
substitution technique which is used
given radius Rw : (x-xw)2+(z-zw)2=Rw2 , the conventionally to fix the problem, is not
condition of steam injection at constant pressure, currently available in COMSOL.
Pe=Pini+ ∆P , and corresponding equilibrium
temperature, Te(Pe), taken from the standard
Excerpt from the Proceedings of the COMSOL Users Conference 2007 Grenoble

Fortunately, COMSOL offers large enough 4.4 Scripting

variety of different means enabling to attack the
problem from other sides. There are at least two Sequential or single equation approach (see
ways to do this. The first one is to proceed with sunsection 4.2) presumes calculating separately
near-equilibrium formulation of the equation the pressure field in order to better satisfy the
(3.1) by splitting it into two equations for gas near-equilibrium conditions for three phase sub-
(steam) and liquid water phases, as follows domain. To do this one needs to use scripting for
the adequate problem formulation. Although the
ε∂ t ( ρ w S w ) + ∇ ⋅ ( ρ w u w ) = f cn (4.1) real time of computation may increase

ε∂ t (ρ g S g )+ ∇ ⋅ (ρ g u g ) = −f cn
significantly, the use of script has many various
(4.2) advantages and may enlarge the field of possible
f cn = γ ( Pg − Pe ) (4.3)
5. Results and Discussion
where Pe= Pe (T ) is saturated steam pressure at
given temperature T. Main drawback of this 2 The main purpose of our work is to reveal
equations approach is the uncertainty the COMSOL applicability to problems of
concerning the value of coefficient γ which has modeling the non-conventional methods of oil
to meet some physical and/or mathematical recovery. It seems to be not very realistic idea to
requirements. implement in COMSOL full reservoir simulator
The second one is the so-called sequential capabilities. Our intention was rather to show
computation which can be called here single that there are numerous potential areas of oil
equation approach. Summing the equations recovery where COMSOL can be a useful and
(3.1) and (3.2) one gets the total flow or in other successful means of research and design
word, pressure equation. Note, that this equation advancement.
is quasi elliptic and least variable in time with SAGD has been taken like an example of
respect to others. The idea of the approach is to possible applications because the methods is
recalculate pressure separately and possibly not based on different strongly coupled physical
at each time step and then proceed in usual phenomena and undergoes currently various
manner with equations (3.1-3.4),(2.1). Again modifications aimed at its enhancement.
additional efforts are required to adjust this The model has been built progressively. The
procedure. Besides that, this approach is only (two phase) Buckley-Leverett problem was the
applicable via scripting (see subsection 4.4). first successful application. Then the modeling
To conclude, our experience shows that the of isothermal gas injection via horizontal well to
results of both near-equilibrium approaches are reservoir saturated by liquid water or oil has
rather close. been done. Finally, hot water and steam injection
has completed our work. Where possible the
4.3 Artificial diffusion numerical solutions have been directly
juxtaposed with exact solution, mass and energy
Remind that we neglect the capillary pressure balance has been verified and the influence of
in our model. Let λ=0 (equation (3.3)). Then auxiliary numerical model parameters value (like
(3.1-3.4),(2.1) becomes the system of hyperbolic artificial diffusion coefficients or parameter γ in
equations which admits normally discontinuities the equation (4.3)) has been tested.
in solution. The computations of the SAGD process
By default, COMSOL offers to deal with finite have been performed on triangular non-
elements of 2 nd order. It is of no doubt that structured grid with 1086 vertices and 2088
following this way one arrives easily to the elements (Fig.1). The main parameters of the
solutions which oscillate and hence demonstrate model are given in the Table below. The
non-physical behavior. So artificial diffusion is temperature, pressure and gas saturation fields
needed to avoid non-monotone solution and are presented in Figures 2a-2c.
again, COMSOL offers the set of mean to avoid It is the gradual development of a “steam
non-physical solution. Additional weak terms in chamber” with nearly uniform temperature and
equations (3.1-3.2) enabled to sufficiently slightly perturbed pressure which makes the
improve the results of computations. Along with method so attractive because the heated oil is
this the application of artificial diffusion displaced from the chamber towards the bottom.
permitted us to specify appropriate bottom Note that there is no need to apply great
boundary conditions for liquid phase saturations. additional pressure on the injection well (cf
Excerpt from the Proceedings of the COMSOL Users Conference 2007 Grenoble

∆P =0.25 bar and, for example, gravity unsaturated soils. Soil Sci. Am. J., Volume 44,
imposed pressure drop, ρhgL ≈1.6 bar). 892-898 (1980)
To validate the results of computation in 4. Computer Modelling Group Ltd., STARS
COMSOL for the SAGD process the same Manual, Calgary, Alberta, October 2004
computation has been carried out with reservoir
simulator STARS on the rectangular structured 8. Acknowledgements
grid 73x1x36 with ∆x=∆z=0.5 m and 2628
grid cells. The results of computation in STARS TOTAL is acknowledged for sponsoring our
are depicted in Figures 3a-3c. research activities.

6. Conclusions
Table 1: Parameters of the SAGD model
COMSOL model of the SAGD process
including three phase non-isothermal flow and Injection temperature, Te 454 K
water phase transition has been successfully built
and tested. Although computational performance
of the model is not still competitive at the Injection pressure, ∆P 0.25 bar
moment in comparison to the industrial reservoir
simulator, the multi-physics flexibility and Porosity, ε 0.32 undim.
diversity of COMSOL based applications offer
the promising possibilities in research on novel Absolute permeability, K 1 Darcy
methods of oil recovery.
Total thickness, L 18 m
7. References

1. Butler R.M., Steam-assisted gravity drainage: Oil density, ρ h 900 kg/m3

Concept, Development, Performance and Future,
Journal of Canadian Petroleum Technology, Initial oil viscosity 0.1 Pa.s
Volume 33, No 2, 44-50 (1994)
2. Oliveira L.I., Demond A.H., Estimation of Reservoir pressure,
10 bar
primary drainage 3-phase relative permeability Pini ( z = zw )
for organic liquid transport in the vadoze zone,
Journal of Contaminant Hydrology, Volume 66, Initial water saturation, Sm 0.2 undim.
261-285 (2003)
Initial oil saturation,
3. van Genuchten M.Th. A closed-form equation 0.8 undim.
for predicting the hydraulic conductivity of

(a) (b)

Figure 1 . COMSOL model grid (a) and STARS model grid (b).
Excerpt from the Proceedings of the COMSOL Users Conference 2007 Grenoble

(a) (b)

(c) (d)

(e) (f)

Figure 2. Comparison of COMSOL model to similar STARS model results: temperature fields (a,b), in C, gas
saturation fields (c,d) and pressure fields (e,f), in Pa for COMSOL ,(e), and in KPa for STARS, (f), after injection of
steam amount equivalent to 4.08 106 m3 of liquid water at reservoir conditions