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In many tight-gas basins of the western United States distinguishing between productive and non-productive low-permeability sandstones, and predicting relative amounts of gas and water production is difficult. Comparison of gas shows, calculated water saturations, and saturation-height profiles between gas-productive and non-productive sandstones of equal reservoir quality all appear similar. Capillary pressure derived height functions are difficult to apply, and classic rock-typing procedures lack the predictive capability that is common to more traditional reservoirs. Basin reconstructions suggest the timing of petroleum charge and migration preceded maximum burial and uplift. This initial charge was likely a primary drainage displacement with reservoir porosity greater by a factor of 2-3 relative to values found today and permeability greater by 1-3 orders of magnitude. These reservoir systems became low-permeability following initial charge reflecting continued diagenesis throughout burial, subsequent uplift and erosion. With burial, decreasing pore volume caused water saturations and gas columns to increase. During uplift and erosion gas columns adjusted to changing structural configuration. In some cases this led to gas accumulations being leaked and spilled. In other cases, structural readjustment resulted in capillary imbibition and, in some cases, secondary (or higher order) drainage and imbibition. Within trapped accumulations, gas expansion upon uplift further increased gas columns. In cases where gas columns were spilled or within migration pathways imbibition led to residual or near-residual water saturations.
Conventional formation evaluation is fundamentally rooted in concepts associated with primary drainage displacement. Tight-gas reservoirs that have experienced late uplift following an earlier phase of charge are unlikely to be characterized by primary drainage and are much more likely to be characterized by imbibition or secondary (or higher order) drainage and possibly imbibition. The hysteresis between primary drainage and imbibition or secondary (or higher order) drainage and imbibition in tight-gas reservoirs is significant and unlike many more traditional reservoirs does not tend to converge on a narrow range of values. Estimates of water saturation are scalar values and do not contain information that allows the saturation history and displacement direction to be deciphered. Recognition that reservoirs are unlikely to be in primary drainage equilibrium is a fundamental paradigm shift that impacts petroleum evaluation at all scales ranging from basin potential to completion decisions within a given well. Although this paper is written from the perspective of tight-gas petroleum systems, the principles are equally applicable to low-permeability oil reservoirs.