Abstract: The ability of some petroleum reservoir sands to conduct oil is decreased by interaction of the porous rock with water, usually water fresher than that coexisting with oil in rock interstices. Shales penetrated by drilling operations may swell upon interaction with relatively fresh water drilling liquids. The question of the relation of specific clay mineral content to reservoir sand water sensitivity has not been investigated in detail by other workers, although bentonitic clays often have been considered responsible.
A selection of 90 core samples from widely scattered American oil fields has been analyzed for clay mineral content. Reservoirs of known water sensitivity history and others where no such problem exists are represented by the samples. Modern X-ray diffraction techniques were employed to determine clay mineral types, lattice expandability, and approximate amounts present. The main purpose was to test the hypothesis that there exists a direct relationship between content of 3-sheet, glycerol-expandable clay minerals and water-sensitive behavior.
It was found that water sensitivity can be predicted with surprising accuracy by measuring the intensity of the X-ray diffraction peak of the glycerol-expanded basal plane spacing. Samples producing “moderate” or greater intensities of the glycerol-expanded peak were taken from sands that exhibited economically serious water-sensitive behavior. Large concentrations of nonexpandable kaolin, chlorite, and mica clay minerals did not produce serious water sensitivity effects in the absence of expandable minerals.
A selection of samples from West Texas sands of Permian age were the only samples older than the Mesozoic found to contain expandable clay minerals. These expanded anomalously, possibly as a result of interstratification. The characteristic clay mineral suite might be employed as a geological marker to identify the Yates and Queen sands over a wide geographical area in Pecos, Ward, and Winkler counties of West Texas.
A possible mechanism of the swelling of clay particles lining reservoir rock pores is discussed in terms of osmotic and Donnan membrane effects as applied to intraparticle swelling. The swelling of expandable clay mineral particles upon contact with relatively fresh water is postulated as the most general cause of water sensitivity difficulties encountered in petroleum production operations. Swollen particles restrict flow in rock pores, and minute, expanded lamellae break away to be dispersed in water within a pore and restrict flow further when they lodge in pore constrictions. Non-expandable clay mineral grains do interact specifically with water but are incapable of swelling and disintegrating to the same degree as those grains containing expandable minerals.