Foam reduces gas mobility and can improve sweep efficiency in an enhanced-oil-recovery (EOR) process. Previous studies show that foam can be generated in porous media by exceeding a critical velocity or pressure gradient. This requirement is typically met only near the wellbore, and it is uncertain whether foam can propagate several tens of meters away from wells as the local pressure gradient and superficial velocity decreases. Theoretical studies show that foam can be generated, independent of pressure gradient, during flow across an abrupt increase in permeability. In this study, we validate theoretical predictions through a variety of experimental evidence. Coreflood experiments involving simultaneous injection of gas and surfactant solution at field-like velocities are presented. We use model consolidated porous media made out of sintered glass, with a well-characterized permeability transition in each core. The change in permeability in these artificial cores is analogous to sharp, small-scale heterogeneities, such as laminations and cross laminations. Pressure gradient is measured across several sections of the core to identify foam-generation events and the subsequent propagation of foam. X-ray computed tomography (CT) provides dynamic images of the coreflood with an indication of foam presence through phase saturations. We investigate the effects of the magnitude of permeability contrast on foam generation and mobilization. Experiments demonstrate foam generation during simultaneous flow of gas and surfactant solution across a sharp increase in permeability, at field-like velocities. The experimental observations also validate theoretical predictions of the permeability contrast required for foam generation by “snap-off” to occur at a certain gas fractional flow. Pressure-gradient measurements across different sections of the core indicate the presence or absence of foam and the onset of foam generation at the permeability change. There is no foam present in the system before generation at the boundary. CT measurements help visualize foam generation and propagation in terms of a region of high gas saturation developing at the permeability transition and moving downstream. If coarse foam is formed upstream, then it is transformed into stronger foam at the transition. Significant fluctuations are observed in the pressure gradient across the permeability transition, suggesting intermittent plugging and mobilization of flow there. This is the first CT-assisted experimental study of foam generation by snap-off only, at a sharp permeability increase in a consolidated medium. The results of experiments reported in this paper have important consequences for a foam application in highly heterogeneous or layered formations. Not including the effect of heterogeneities on gas mobility reduction in the presence of surfactant could underestimate the efficiency of the displacement process.
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