Liquid -gas relative permeabilities in fractures: Effects of flow structures, phase transformation and surface roughness
Two-phase flow through fractured media is important in petroleum, geothermal, and environmental applications. However, the actual physics and phenomena that occur inside fractures are poorly understood, and oversimplified relative permeability curves are commonly used in fractured reservoir simulations.
In this work, an experimental apparatus equipped with a high-speed data acquisition system, real-time visualization, and automated image processing technology was constructed to study three transparent analog fractures with distinct surface roughnesses: smooth, homogeneously rough, and randomly rough. Air-water relative permeability measurements obtained in this study were compared with models suggested by earlier studies and analyzed by examining the flow structures. A method to evaluate the tortuosities induced by the blocking phase, namely the channel tortuosity, was proposed from observations of the flow structure images. The relationship between the coefficients of channel tortuosity and the relative permeabilities was studied with the aid of laboratory experiments and visualizations. Experimental data from these fractures were used to develop a broad approach for modeling two-phase flow behavior based on the flow structures. Finally, a general model deduced from these data was proposed to describe two-phase relative permeabilities in both smooth and rough fractures.
For the theoretical analysis of liquid-vapor relative permeabilities, accounting for phase transformations, the inviscid bubble train models coupled with relative permeability concepts were developed. The phase transformation effects were evaluated by accounting for the molecular transport through liquid-vapor interfaces. For the steam-water relative permeabilities, we conducted steam-water flow experiments in the same fractures as used for air-water experiments. We compared the flow behavior and relative permeability differences between two-phase flow with and without phase transformation effects and between smooth-walled and rough-walled fractures. We then used these experimental data to verify and calibrate a field-scale method for inferring steam-water relative permeabilities from production data. After that, actual production data from active geothermal fields at The Geysers and Salton Sea in California were used to calculate the relative permeabilities of steam and water. These theoretical, experimental, and in-situ results provide better understanding of the likely behavior of geothermal, gas-condensate, and steam injection reservoirs.