Research Article: Relative permeability for water and gas through fractures in cement

Date Published: January 23, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Kenton A. Rod, Wooyong Um, Sean M. Colby, Mark L. Rockhold, Christopher E. Strickland, Sangsoo Han, Andrew P. Kuprat, Zhenhua Chai.


Relative permeability is an important attribute influencing subsurface multiphase flow. Characterization of relative permeability is necessary to support activities such as carbon sequestration, geothermal energy production, and oil and gas exploration. Previous research efforts have largely neglected the relative permeability of wellbore cement used to seal well bores where risks of leak are significant. Therefore this study was performed to evaluate fracturing on permeability and relative permeability of wellbore cement. Studies of relative permeability of water and air were conducted using ordinary Portland cement paste cylinders having fracture networks that exhibited a range of permeability values. The measured relative permeability was compared with three models, 1) Corey-curve, often used for modeling relative permeability in porous media, 2) X-curve, commonly used to represent relative permeability of fractures, and 3) Burdine model based on fitting the Brooks-Corey function to fracture saturation-pressure data inferred from x-ray computed tomography (XCT) derived aperture distribution results. Experimentally-determined aqueous relative permeability was best described by the Burdine model. Though water phase tended to follow the Corey-curve for the simple fracture system while air relative permeability was best described by the X-curve.

Partial Text

Relative permeability measurements are critical to understanding multiphase flow (e.g. gas and water) in subsurface environments where well drilling for operations such as deep carbon dioxide storage or geothermal energy production are employed [1–3]. Typically research on relative permeability has focused on natural sediment or rock, including fractured rock where fracturing occurs from subsurface geomechanical processes. However, cement used in the wellbore annulus is also subject to the same environmental stresses that result in fracturing of rock. Therefore, consideration of the effects of fracturing on the permeability and relative permeability of wellbore cement is also needed.

Experimental data on permeability and relative permeability of water and gas in fractured cement paste cylinders indicate that the most appropriate relative permeability model depends on the saturation state of the materials, and on the characteristics of the fracture network. In both simple and multiple fractured cement samples the Burdine model provided the closest correspondence to experimentally determined relative permeabilities, followed by the Corey-curve. The X-curve better described the relative permeability of the gas phase. If water pressure is maintained and gas pressure is reduced such that the phase interference is minimized, the relative permeability of water will more closely follow the X-curve. At greater than 80% water saturation, the interference of the gas phase on water permeability is reduced and water can easily permeate the fractures. The result is that a fracture when less than fully saturated, can have water relative permeability at maximum. This suggests that more water can be transmitted under these higher water saturation conditions than predicted by the models unless trapped air is accounted for in the calculations. Use of the aperture distribution for computing fracture saturation-pressure and relative permeability relations appears to yield some nominal improvement in correspondence between experimentally-determined and model generated relative permeability results for water.




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