Direct observation of two-phase flow in deformable fractures of shales: A Utica shale example
Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering
School of Engineering
© 2020 Elsevier B.V. Despite the success of hydrocarbon production from unconventional shale reservoirs, the physical processes controlling the production are not yet fully understood. The wettability controlling the two-phase flow in deformable natural fractures of shale is among the processes that still need special attention. With the advances of optical technologies, microfluidics can now be used to observe, measure, and analyse the dynamic changes of flow in fractured systems. However, mimicking the natural wall roughness of the fractures with high precision and having flexibility to allow fracture deformation has remained challenging. We have therefore developed a new microfluidic technique to create tensile fractures in shale with subsurface representative random geometries and roughness, and then observed two-phase flow in these deformable fractures at a high resolution for Utica shale. During the two-phase flow, dynamic contact angles of water-oil in the fractures with varying apertures of 60–100 μm were measured and analysed. Significant contact angle hysteresis was observed when oil displaced water out of the fracture and vice versa. Interestingly, water completely displaced the oil out of the fracture through spontaneous imbibition, although its contact angle in the fracture varied from 20° to 90°. The water velocity in the fracture was found to be correlated to the observed contact angles during the spontaneous imbibition test. The large change in the contact angle was further investigated using fluorescence tracking where patches of oil were observed to remain on the fracture wall despite its water wetness. It was then shown through further investigations that the formation of these oil patches was primarily controlled by mineral heterogeneity than wall roughness.