We present a comprehensive investigation of gas injection for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) in organic-rich shale using 11 coreflooding experiments in sidewall core plugs from the Wolfcamp Shale, and three additional coreflooding experiments using Berea Sandstone. Our work studies the effect of pressure, minimum miscibility pressure (MMP), soak time, injection-gas composition, and rock-transport properties on oil-recovery factor. The injection gases were carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen. The core plugs were resaturated with crude oil in the laboratory, and the experiments were performed at reservoir pressure and temperature using a design that closely replicates gas injection through a hydraulic fracture, minimizes convective flow, and exaggerates the fracture to the reservoir-rock ratio. We accomplished this by surrounding the Wolfcamp reservoir-rock matrix with glass beads. Computed-tomography (CT) scanning enabled the visualization of the compositional changes with time and space during the gas-injection experiments and gas chromatography provided the overall change in composition between the crude oil injected and the oil recovered.
As gas surrounds the oil-saturated sample, a peripheral, slow-kinetics vaporization/condensation process is the main production mechanism. Gas flows preferentially through the proppant because of its high permeability, avoiding the formation and displacement of a miscible front along the rock matrix to mobilize the oil. Instead, the gas surrounding the reservoir-core sample vaporizes the light and intermediate components from the crude oil, making recovery a function of the fraction of oil that can be vaporized into the volume of gas in the fracture at the prevailing thermodynamic conditions. The mass transfer between the injected gas and the crude oil is sufficiently fast to result in significant oil production during the first 24 hours, but slow enough to cause the formation of a compositional gradient within the matrix that exists even 6 days after injection has started. The peripheral and the slow-kinetics aspects of the recovery mechanism are a consequence of the low fluid-transport capacity associated with the organic-rich shale that is saturated with liquid hydrocarbons.
Our results show CO2 overperforms nitrogen as an EOR injection gas in organic-rich shale, and higher injection pressure leads to higher oil recovery, even beyond the MMP. The gas-injection scheme should allow enough time for the mass transfer to occur between the injected gas and the crude oil; we achieved this in the laboratory with a huff ’n’ puff scheme. Our results advance the understanding of gas injection for EOR in organic-rich shale in a laboratory scale, but additional work is required to rigorously scale up these observations to better design field applications.