Improving methods of hydrocarbon production and developing new techniques for the creation of natural gas storage facilities are critically important for the petroleum industry. This dissertation focuses on two key topics: (1) mechanisms of sand production from petroleum reservoirs and (2) mechanical characterization of caverns created in carbonate rock formations for natural gas storage.
In this work, a series of large-scale laboratory experiments was conducted in fully saturated, cohesionless sand layers to model the behavior of a petroleum reservoir near a wellbore. We directly observed several key characteristics of the sand production phenomenon including the formations of a stable cavity around the wellbore and a subradial flow channel at the upper surface of the tested layer. The flow channel is a first-order feature that appears to be a major part of the sand production mechanism. The channel cross section is orders of magnitude larger than the particle size, and once formed, the channel becomes the dominant conduit for fluid flow and particle transport. The flow channel developed in all of our experiments, and in all experiments, sand production continued from the developing channel after the cavity around the borehole stabilized.
It appears that the main sand production features observed in the laboratory experiments, can indeed be reproduced by means of discrete element modeling. Numerical results indicate that the cavity surface of repose is a key factor in the sand production mechanism. In particular, the sand particles on this surface are not significantly constrained. This lack of confinement reduces the flow velocity required to remove a particle, by many orders of magnitude. Also, the mechanism of channel development in the upper fraction of the sample can be attributed to subsidence of the formation due to lateral extension when an unconstrained cavity slope appears near the wellbore. This is substantiated by the erosion process and continued production of particles from the flow channel.
The notion of the existence of this surface channel has the potential to scale up to natural reservoirs and can give insights into real-world sand production issues. It indicates a mechanism explaining why the production of particles does not cease in many petroleum reservoirs. Although the radial character of the fluid flow eventually stops sand production from the cavity near the wellbore, the production of particles still may continue from the propagating surface (interface) flow channel.
The second topic of the thesis addresses factors affecting the geometry and, hence, the mechanical stability of caverns excavated in carbonate rock formations for natural gas storage. Storage facilities are required to store gas when supply exceeds demand during the winter months. In many places (such as New England or the Great Lakes region) where no salt domes are available to create gas storage caverns, it is possible to create cavities in limestone employing the acid injection method.
In this work, we propose to characterize the geometry of the cavern and the location of the mixture-brine interface by generating pressure waves in a pipe extending into the cavern, and measuring the reflected waves at various locations in another adjacent pipe. Conventional governing equations describe fluid transients in pipes loaded only by internal pressure (such as in the water hammer effect). To model the pressure wave propagation for realistic geometries, we derived new governing equations for pressure transients in pipes subjected to changes in both internal and external (confining) pressures. We showed that the classic equations are included in our formulation as a particular case, but they have limited validity for some practically important combinations of the controlling parameters.
We linearized the governing equations and formulated appropriate boundary and initial conditions. Using a finite element method, we solved the obtained boundary value problem for a system of pipes and a cavern filled with various characteristic fluids such as aqueous acid, calcium chloride brine, and supercritical CO2. We found that the pressure waves of moderate amplitudes would create measurable pressure pulses in the submerged pipe. Furthermore, we determined the wavelengths required for resolving the cavern diameter from the pressure history. Our results suggest that the pressure transients technique can indeed be used for characterizing the geometry of gas storage caverns and locations of fluid interfaces in the acid injection method. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)