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MBDCI

Conventional In Situ Combustion:


Why 50 years of Disappointments?
Conventional Combustions History

Maurice B. Dusseault
MBDCI

The Concept
Start a combustion front in the reservoir
Propagate the front from one well to another
Burn some of the oil, produce the rest
Conceptually, best for >100 cP oils
In the case of heavy oil, substantial in situ
Conventional Combustions History

upgrading should occur


Combustion residues should stay behind (e.g.
most of the heavy metals are oxidized,
perhaps some of the S removed as well, etc.)
MBDCI

The Original Idea (~1953)

Air, O2, Air + H2O, Cycles, etc. Oil


Combustion gases
Inert gases
Combustion zone Reaction and coking zone

Swept zone
Conventional Combustions History

f orward ol oil , h ea t transfer


rried gh co
t c a Flow path throu
Hea
Cool zone
Conventional Combustions History

Air, O2
co
m
co bus
kin tio
cra g ( n
c k C)
ste ing
am
Temperature

ba
nk
Temperatures, Pressures

flu
id
flo
w
Pressure

he
a t tr
an
sfe
r
MBDCI
MBDCI

The Original Idea - Expectations

ky
Production wells kx

Well spacing and pattern


based on in-plane k-ratio
O2, air
Conventional Combustions History

Combustion zone
Swept zone
Reaction zone
Product flow region
Gradual heat
transfer region
MBDCI

A Bit of History
Apparently, the first fireflood used O 2,
mostly air thereafter
Simple laboratory fire-tube tests showed
excellent efficiency, wonderful results
Early attempts had stability problems
Conventional Combustions History

Direct scaling of 1-D results to 3-D reservoir


showed high promise (1960s 1970s)
Engineers began fine tuning the process, in
the expectations of imminent success
MBDCI

Fire Flood - Expectations

Sectional
view

Pr
od
uc
ti on
owr
Air
,
Conventional Combustions History

O2
,+
so

There are many variations of


me

fire flooding, including a wide


H

variety of pattern types,


2
O

alternating air/water, pre-


steam, reverse combustion,
etc. etc.
MBDCI

Long Distance Displacement

Injection Typical Fireflood Production


well well

A stable displacement
front is often assumed
Conventional Combustions History

Long distance displacement, conventional combustion


MBDCI

The Reality (~1965-1985)

Air, O2, Air + H2O, Cycles, etc.

Reaction zone Override Well burnout


Combustion zone
Shear
Conventional Combustions History

Channeling Gas
breakthrough
Swept Cool zone
zone
MBDCI

The Reality

Only some wells are productive


ky Early hot gas breakthrough
Production wells kx
Poor sweep efficiency
<10-15% recovery

Air injection well


Conventional Combustions History

Combustion zone
Reaction zone
Product flow region
MBDCI

Fire Flood Processes - Reality

Sectional
view
Old

Pr
well

od
uc
ti on
owr
Air
,
Conventional Combustions History

Gravity override
O2
,+

Bypassed oil
so
me

Poor recovery
H 2
O

Early well burnout


Well shearing
MBDCI

Some History of Combustion


In the 1970s price shock, many experiments
Particularly interesting for heavy oil
The USA created massive incentives for
new oil, controlled the price of old oil
Many operators tried combustion because
Conventional Combustions History

the return from the government was great


When sanity returned in the middle 1980s
Almost all projects shut down
Few new attempts since then
MBDCI

Status of ISC Projects, 1992


26 active ISC projects
8 USA, 3 Canada
10 former Soviet Union, 5 Romania

Total production: 32,000 bbl/day (m3/day)


Commercial ISC project defined as: >2 air
Conventional Combustions History

injectors and/or duration >8 years


Half of processes have been operated using
the peripheral line drive configuration
AOR = 6,000 25,000 scf/bbl (Sm3/m3)
Turta et al., 2005, CIPC
MBDCI

1992-2004 Period
Continuous decrease in commercial projects
(number of commercial projects decreased
by a factor of 4, the total oil production
decreased by a factor of 2)
Continuous decrease of the number of pilots
Conventional Combustions History

(At presently there are only three ISC tests,


one in China and two in India)
Apparently, results have not been good
enough for general adoption

Turta et al, 2005, CIPC


MBDCI

Variants
All kinds of patterns and drives tried
Wet combustion or wet/dry alternating
O2 to reduce gas volume
Reverse combustion
Steam pre-heating, then combustion
Conventional Combustions History

Pulses of air, then reduce p to allow heat to


diffuse, then start combustion again
Use only after primary and secondary
(inapplicable to heavy oils), and so on
MBDCI

Alberta Case History

A C
x x
stable front
x
x x x
x x
xxx xxxxxx x x xx x
x x
x xx x
xxx x x x
x x x unstable
x x xx x x x
x front
A: good oil x x x
x
production xx xxx x
x x x
x x
B: heated x x
Conventional Combustions History

x x x x
channel
C&D: poor
x x x x
?
?no discrete front
x
xx x x x
production

?
x xx x x

B
x
x x? x x
x
x
x x
D
injector plus four producers
MBDCI

Alberta Fireflood (1985)


~750 m depth, 15 m thick channel sand,
10,000 cP, 30% porosity, ~homogeneous
Single five-spot, microseismic monitoring
One well showed decent production, and
also a good microseismic response
Conventional Combustions History

One well channeled and burned out early;


the channeling was detected far in advance
The other two wells were essentially non-
producers
MBDCI

Alberta Fireflood (contd)


The operator tried all kinds of ideas to
stabilize the combustion process
Conformance was extremely low, and they
tended to blame bad geology
Even the producing well was not a good
Conventional Combustions History

well, and the oil produced soon decayed to


gases with little condensible product
The project was deemed a technical
success (i.e. an economic failure)
MBDCI

General Issues
ISC is an inherently unstable process
Viscosity ratio effects
Gravitational segregation override

Thermally-induced formation shearing

Hot workovers a problem


Conventional Combustions History

Infill drilling problematic


Some H2S in combustion gases (safety)
Can only operate ISC in one reservoir layer
at a time (too complex to try and stack)
MBDCI

Inherent Instabilities in Fluid Flow


Conventional Combustions History
MBDCI

Gravitational Segregation
Different densities lead
Mineral
to flow & diffusion grain
oil
Driven by micro-scale
pressure differences
Gases rise, oil and H2O
sink (override) p water
Conventional Combustions History

This is the reason for gas


natural gas caps,
bottom water, some
fluid migration, etc. dm
MBDCI

Gravity Override
Density of formation fluids = ~0.90
Density of gases (N2, CO2, CH4) = ~0.02
Gravity segregation in the hot fluid flow
zone takes place (fluids drop, gases rise)
The heat transfer is thus forced upward
Conventional Combustions History

The lower reservoir zone is overridden


Resources are bypassed and lost
This effect happens independently of other
advective instabilities
MBDCI

Advective (p) Processes

Are driven by pressure differences (p)


Combustion processes are p schemes
Many other processes as well: steam drive,
conventional production, H2O drive
Conventional Combustions History

They provide high-rate early production


Leave considerable OOIP behind
They suffer from inherent instabilities
related to effects of a high pressure gradient
MBDCI

Advective Instabilities (I)

All require pressure-driven flow (high p)


All viscosity dominated
Fundamental frontal instabilities develop
Water coning from below or laterally occurs
Conventional Combustions History

Gas coning from above takes place


Permeable streak enhancement develops
(preferential channeling in high k beds)
Hydraulic fracture propagation (very high p
MBDCI

Frontal Perturbations

Perfect displacement case


Self-reinforcing
perturbation
rel k2
2
Conventional Combustions History

If the ratio or /krel between the


rel k1
two regions is >2 or 3, any
instability becomes self- 1
reinforcing (to some upper k absolute is
characteristic length). In most completely
combustion cases, the mobility homogeneous and
ratio is > 10,000 isotropic
MBDCI

Advective Instabilities (II)

High p causes fingering of various types


Isolation of valuable resources in high Sor and
bypassed bodies of oil
Lead to premature breakthrough in EOR

processes (gas, H2O channeling)


Conventional Combustions History

Expensive blocking agents? (~40% success)


Problematic for high -contrast flooding

Generally lead to low resource recovery ratios

Can these be overcome?


MBDCI

Channeling
Cold oil viscosity is >50 cP (usually >1000)
Viscosity of hot gas is <0.005 cP
This high contrast (called mobility ratio
when relative permeabilities are included) is
fatal to stable displacement
Conventional Combustions History

Even in perfectly homogeneous strata


(isotropic k), fingering will occur
The theoretical length of the fingers is many
times the reservoir thickness = channeling
MBDCI

Fundamental Frontal Instabilities


One finger will become dominant, others
retarded, sweep efficiency drops, oil lost

Low-viscosity phase, usually gases or water Isotropic reservoir

High-viscosity phase
Conventional Combustions History

usually heavy oil


Flow direction

fingers
Viscosity differences lead
naturally to frontal loss of
stability, called fingering.
Blocking fingering is largely
ineffective and quite costly.
MBDCI

Viscous Fingering
Homogeneous pack: 25 cm
= 35%, k = 15 D
35 cP oil (green)
Waterflood under 0.5
m constant head
oil
Note fingers, regularly
Conventional Combustions History

spaced, one dominant


Bypassed oil
water
MBDCI

Mobility Ratio Based Instabilities


Any uniform front
develops small Combustion
zone
perturbations
These are self gases
reinforcing flaws
Fingers develop
Conventional Combustions History

and grow in length Swept


zone
There is stable
Isotropic k
limiting length,
Flow pattern
linked to mobility develops fingers
ratio of fluids
MBDCI

Coning Processes

Coning is a basic
viscosity-related Gas
flow instability coning
Water
Gas zone
coning high p
GOC
(lateral coning
can also occur)
Oil zone
Conventional Combustions History

high p
OWC
Water zone To eliminate coning, p has to be
quite small. In many cases, this
means going to a gravity process.

Once a cone has been created, it is almost impossible to block.


Upon re-starting production, breakthrough is much more rapid.
MBDCI

Coning
Similar to the basic flow instability issue
Only, in this case, the low pressure in the
producing well creates the location of the
perturbation
Linked to mobility ratio, p, So, Sw, Sg, and
Conventional Combustions History

the presence of the well (plus secondary


factors such as wettability, kv/kh)
Plugging perfs is a classic cure, or
injecting blocking agents
MBDCI

Permeability Instabilities

Permeability streaks are preferred flow channels of higher krel

permeable zones
incomplete displacement

advanced displacement
Conventional Combustions History

Preferred displacement in naturally permeable streaks is


p a fundamental aspect of p flow (advective flow) in any
real porous system; it cannot be avoided.

Trying to block or plug naturally permeable streaks in


combustion work has a poor success record.
MBDCI

High-k Streak Channeling


In most projects in arenaceous sequences,
we are dealing with layered media
Some beds are more permeable than others
Gases from combustion move through these
beds very rapidly
Conventional Combustions History

They then dominate flow, fires are quenched


Many (useless) patents for ways to block
these have been issued over the years
MBDCI

Hydraulic Fracturing

pressure A fracture is an induced flow instability

original v (= z)

initial hmin (= 3)
thief zone
Conventional Combustions History

Fracture injection hmin = 3


Fractures usually rise
Loss of heat, product
time
MBDCI

Fracturing: an Induced Instability


Non-uniform fluid displacement
Creation of a single thin discontinuity plane
Fractures rise in most fields
Fracture fluid has a density of ~1.0 - 1.1 g/cm3
Formation gradient = 1.7 - 2.2 g/cm3 equiv.
3
Conventional Combustions History

These are advective instabilities, but the


pressures become so large as to open planes
However, we use fractures to advantage
Create flow paths (FracPack placement)
Waste disposal (Slurry Fracture Injection)
MBDCI

Gas Generation
If O2 used, solution gases, light ends, CO2
and steam must flow into producing wells
If air used, 80% (N2) must flow into wells
But, the gases must flow through cold rock
High p needed, capillary blockage
Conventional Combustions History

develops, and heavy oil displacement is hard


Very slow heat transfer rate as well (heat
goes to top of strata because of gravity)
(Led to reverse combustion, which failed)
MBDCI

It Gets Worse!
In addition, there are geomechanical issues
Well shearing is a massive problem
Heating causes reservoir expansion
This leads to shear stresses at the interface

This crunches casings regularly


Conventional Combustions History

And wells burn out too!


Sudden channeling, production well fried
Lowering T? (wet combustion, cycles)

Rapid corrosion
MBDCI

The Best Results Were


In reservoirs with dips Production Injection
to help counteract
instabilities dip

In projects using
peripheral line drive Reservoir
starting from the top
Conventional Combustions History

Hence, avoid pattern


processes, stick to line
systems
Horizontal wells are
undoubtedly best
MBDCI

What About the Product?


The liquid product is geochemically active
Many heterocyclic rings were broken
Many double C bonds + others (active)

When cooled, cross-linking develops, gelation

This leads to transport and refining issues


Conventional Combustions History

However, these issues are solvable:


Hydrogenation on site to satisfy bonds
Catalytic treatment if necessary

Probably possible at a modest scale (low p?)


MBDCI

Yet More History


The number of profitable combustion
projects for IOR is very small (just a few)
No-one has overcome the basic problems:
Long flow-path through cold strata
Combustion gases (plus N )
2
Conventional Combustions History

The need for significant p levels


Massively unfavorable mobility ratios

Gravity-induces liquid-gas segregation

In situ combustion has been abandoned


MBDCI

A Glimmer of Hope
Although history seems very negative
There are successes, especially in
conventional oil, low T combustion
Different than heavy oil combustion
E.g. use horizontal wells
Conventional Combustions History

Air injection oxidizes some of the light oil

Increases viscosity, helping displacement

Gas withdrawn high in structure to avoid

massive gas and channeling to production wells


Perhaps a significant niche has been found
MBDCI

Low-T Air Injection

Combustion gases

Gravitational segregation
of gases and liquids Swept zone Air injection
Conventional Combustions History

Oil displacement

Production well p kept just Bottom water


above bottom water pressure
MBDCI

Balancing Instabilities
Top-down combustion uses gravity
segregation to counteract gas fingering
Long horizontal wells allow inj/prod rates
that are acceptable, yet at lower p gradients
Thus, combining these concepts, long
Conventional Combustions History

horizontal wells can help achieve:


Combustion gas/liquid separation & removal
Acceptable production rates

Reduced coning and other instabilities

Plus a component of IGI


MBDCI

Top-Down ISC (or Air Injection)

AIR AIR

BURN
Conventional Combustions History

FRONT
MOBILIZED
OIL

HORIZONTAL WELL

R. Coats, 1995
MBDCI

Bottom-Up Combustion
air gases

cold oil

air flushed zone

air gases
Conventional Combustions History

combustion, conduction

gases
oil

soak and production

E.C. Lau
MBDCI

Bottom-Up Displacement
Air will channel to the gas production well
in any case
Gas production well at lower p than prod. Well
Horizontal well = lower gradient, higher p

O is consumed on the upper part of the channel


2
Conventional Combustions History

The proposed idea (E.C.Lau 2000) is


cyclic in execution.
Combustion = heat
Soak = conductive heat spreading

Production = bottom-up water displacement


MBDCI

OGNC Experience
In India, combustion has been successfully
implemented in two heavy oil reservoirs
20,000 b/d total production
The reservoir is high permeability
Water and air cyclically injected. The role
Conventional Combustions History

of the water is to displace the mobilized oil.


Claimed to be done economically in heavy
oil. However, claims are in question; should
be watched
MBDCI

Practical Lessons - I
High mobility ratios doom combustion
Channeling is horrible, no conformance
Gravity and thermal override occur
Well burn out is a problem
Coping with combustion gases is difficult
Conventional Combustions History

Produced oil is a chemically active product


Blocking agents or systematic well
management problematic (monitoring)
Almost an abandoned technology at present
MBDCI

Practical Lessons - II
1-D laboratory tests are irrelevant
The front is forced along a narrow path
Short heat transfer path guarantees good sweep

Lab packs are homogeneous, isotropic

Rigorous scaling of 1-D to 3-D is tough!


Conventional Combustions History

General 3-D experiments (late 80s) show:


Same instabilities as in the field
Of some value for stochiometry, products

Still, such tests are largely qualitative


MBDCI

Practical Lessons - III


Numerical modeling is really tough!
3-D must be properly scaled
Thin front propagation (high gradients) is rough

Handling generalized inhomogeneity is difficult

Coupling reactions to flow behavior challenging

Rock mechanics issues generally not addressed


Conventional Combustions History

Other concerns

We are a lot more skeptical nowadays


Exceedingly complex processes are
humbling for the modeler, even today.