Mechanical Weakening during Fluid Injection in Critically Stressed Sandstones with Acoustic Monitoring
Abstract:Water weakening is a well-known phenomenon which can lead to subsidence during the production of hydrocarbon reservoirs. The example of the Ekofisk oil field in the North Sea has been well documented for years. In order to assess water weakening effects in reservoir rocks, previous studies have focused on changes in the failure envelopes derived from mechanical tests conducted on rocks saturated either with water or with inert fluids. However, little attention has been paid so far on the mechanical behaviour during the fluid injection stage, like in enhanced oil recovery operations.
We studied the effect of fluid injection on the mechanical behaviour of Sherwood sandstone, a weakly-consolidated sandstone sampled at Ladram Bay in UK. In order to highlight possible weakening effects, water and inert oil have been injected into critically-loaded samples to assess their effect on strength and elastic properties and to derive the acoustic signature of the saturation front for each fluid. The specimens were instrumented with 16 ultrasonic P-wave transducers for both passive and active acoustic monitoring during fluid injection and loading.
After conducting standard triaxial tests on three samples saturated with air, water and oil respectively, mechanical creep tests were conducted on dry samples loaded at 80% of the compressive strength of the dry rock. While these conditions are kept constant, a fluid is injected at the bottom end of the sample with a low back pressure (0.5 MPa) to minimize effective stress variations during injection. Both water and oil were used as the injected pore fluid in two experiments. As soon as the fluids start to flow into the samples, creep is taking place with a much higher strain rate for water injection compared to oil injection. A transition from secondary creep to tertiary creep is observed in the water injection test whereas in the oil injection test no significant creep acceleration is observed after one pore volume of oil was injected. The most remarkable difference is that water injection induces mechanical instability and failure, whereas oil injection does not. This was confirmed by the analysis of acoustic emissions activity and post-mortem sample imaging using CT scan. Contrasting evolutions of the P wave velocity during the fluid front propagation were also observed in both experiments.