Fluid-Fluid Interfacial Area and Its Impact on Relative Permeability: A Pore Network Modeling Study

Sanchay Mukherjee, Russell T. Johns, Sajjad Foroughi, Martin J. Blunt

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Relative permeability (kr) is commonly modeled as an empirical function of phase saturation. Although current empirical models can provide a good match of one or two measured relative permeabilities using saturation alone, they are unable to predict relative permeabilities well when there is hysteresis or when physical properties such as wettability change. Further, current models often result in relative permeability discontinuities that can cause convergence and accuracy problems in simulation. To overcome these problems, recent research has modeled relative permeability as a state function of both saturation (S) and phase connectivity (X). Pore network modeling (PNM) data, however, show small differences in relative permeability for the same S-X value when approached from a different flow direction. This paper examines the impact of one additional Minkowski parameter (Mecke and Arns 2005), the fluid-fluid interfacial area, on relative permeability to identify if that satisfactorily explains this discrepancy. We calculate the total fluid-fluid interfacial areas (IA) during two-phase (oil/water) flow in porous media using PNM. The area is calculated from PNM simulations using the areas associated with corners and throats in pore elements of different shapes. The pore network is modeled after a Bentheimer sandstone, using square, triangular prism, and circular pore shapes. Simulations were conducted for numerous primary drainage (PD) and imbibition cycles at a constant contact angle of 0° for the wetting phase. Simultaneous measurements of capillary pressure, relative permeability, saturation, and phase connectivity are made for each displacement. The fluid-fluid IA is calculated from the PNM capillary pressure, the fluid location in the pore elements, and the pore element dimensional data. The results show that differences in the relative permeability at the same (S, X) point are explained well by differences in the fluid-fluid interfacial area (IA). That is, for a larger change in IA at these intersection points, the permeability difference is greater. That difference in relative permeability approaches zero as the difference in IA approaches zero. This confirms that relative permeability can be modeled better as a unique function of S, X, and IA. The results also show that an increase in IA restricts flow decreasing the nonwetting (oil) phase permeability. This decrease is caused by an increase in the throat area fraction compared to the corner area as the total area IA increases. The wetting phase relative permeability, however, shows the inverse trend in that its relative permeability is greater when IA becomes larger owing to a greater fraction of the total area associated with the corners. The area IA, however, impacts the nonwetting phase relative permeability more than the wetting phase relative permeability. Corner flow improves the wetting phase relative permeability because the wetting phase is continuous there. Finally, a sensitivity analysis shows that relative permeability is more sensitive to change in S than it is for IA for the case studied, implying that if only two parameters are used to model relative permeability, it is better to choose S and X.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)653-663
Number of pages11
JournalSPE Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology

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