The scaling exponent of residual nonwetting phase cluster size distributions in porous media
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Copyright © 2016 The American Geophysical Union
During an imbibition process in two-phase subsurface flow the imbibing phase can displace the nonwetting phase up to an endpoint at which a residual saturation is reached (which cannot be reduced further by additional wetting phase flow due to the complex pore network of the rock and associated strong capillary forces which trap the nonwetting phase). The residual nonwetting phase is split into many disconnected clusters of different sizes. This size distribution is of key importance, for instance, in the context of hydrocarbon recovery, contaminant transport, or CO2 geostorage; and it is well established that this size distribution follows a power law. However, there is significant uncertainty associated with the exact value of the distribution exponent t, which mathematically describes the size distribution. To reduce this uncertainty and to better constrain t, we analyzed a representative experimental data set with mathematically rigorous methods, and we demonstrate that t is substantially smaller (˜1.1) than previously suggested. This raises increasing doubt that simple percolation models can accurately predict subsurface fluid flow behavior; and this has serious consequences for subsurface flow processes: hydrocarbon recovery is easier than predicted, but CO2 geostorage dissolution trapping capacities are significantly reduced and potential remobilization of residual CO2 is more likely than previously believed. © 2016 American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.
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