Modelling aqueous brine solutions to cut oil production costs

Gaining a better understanding of the processes that occur in the aqueous brines present in oil and gas reservoirs could reduce the costs of oil production and lead to more environmental friendly production.

Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services company with branches in more than 85 countries, and Strathclyde’s Department of Physics and Department of Chemical & Process Engineering worked together to develop new computer-based methods to better understand the characteristics of aqueous brines in oil and gas reservoirs that govern their flow behaviour in the porous media of the reservoirs.

The project, funded by the EPSRC’s Impact Acceleration Account, used large-scale supercomputer simulations to better understand fundamental phenomena of the brines.

These included:

  • thermodynamics of ion solvation in brines
  • physico-chemical properties of brines at high temperature and pressure
  • the role of ions and counter-ions such as naturally occurring or injected brine solutions

The simulations were performed on the ARCHIE-WeSt supercomputer facility at Strathclyde that is supported by the EPSRC e-infrastructure grant, West of Scotland Supercomputing Centre for Academia and Industry.

Within the project we modelled brine properties at elevated pressures, established a new model for simulations of the contact angle of brine/linear alkane and simulated the contact angle changes with temperature. The results were compared with the experimental data available and were preliminarily published in a PhD thesis.

Better models for simulating petro-relevant aqueous solutions

The project, in collaboration with research from Schlumberger, has resulted in better models for simulating petro-relevant aqueous solutions. Understanding these critical processes at the molecular level is important for the petroleum energy industry in general, and Schlumberger in particular.

Schlumberger wants to lower the costs of oil production and improve its efficiency. Both goals can be reached by developing procedures which will allow for better manipulation within oil and gas reservoirs. This project is the first step towards this ambitious goal. More efficient manipulation with oil and brine aqueous solutions will lead to substantial cost reduction of oil and gas production and simultaneously lead to more environmentally friendly production.

Mutally beneficial outcomes

The project allowed researchers from Strathclyde to establish good contacts and relationships with applied research scientists close to major petroleum oil fields. They also familiarised themselves with the role and importance of research and development in the petroleum industry and were exposed to typical research problems of operation in remote oilfield environments.

Schlumberger benefited from the unique expertise of Strathclyde researchers in molecule modelling and from the access to the state of the art computer facilities. It is currently applying the findings to its production procedures. This has raised additional operational questions and the project is continuing, with further publications expected.