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An Experimental Study of Three-Phase Trapping in Sand Packs


The trapped saturations of oil and gas are measured as functions of initial oil and gas saturation in water-wet sand packs. Analogue fluids—water, octane and air—are used at ambient conditions. Starting with a sand-pack column which has been saturated with brine, oil (octane) is injected with the column horizontal until irreducible water saturation is reached. The column is then positioned vertically and air is allowed to enter from the top of the column, while oil is allowed to drain under gravity for varying lengths of time. At this point, the column may be sliced and the fluids analyzed by gas chromatography to obtain the initial saturations. Alternatively, brine is injected through the bottom of the vertical column to trap oil and gas, before slicing the columns and measuring the trapped or residual saturations by gas chromatography and mass balance. The experiments show that in three-phase flow, the total trapped saturations of oil and gas are considerably higher than the trapped saturations reported in the literature for two-phase systems. It is found that the residual saturation of oil and gas combined could be as high as 23 %, as opposed to a maximum two-phase residual of only 14 %. For very high initial gas saturations, the residual gas saturation, up to 17 %, was also higher than for two-phase displacement. These observations are explained in terms of the competition between piston-like displacement and snap-off. It is also observed that less oil is always trapped in three-phase flow than in two-phase displacement, and the difference depends on the amount of gas present. For low and intermediate initial gas saturations, the trapped gas saturation rises linearly with initial saturation, followed by a constant residual, as seen in two-phase displacements. However, at very high initial gas saturations, the residual saturation rises again.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


\(a\) :

Coefficient to relate the reduction in residual oil saturation to the trapped gas saturation


Carbon Capture and Storage

\(\hbox {CO}_{2}\) :

Carbon dioxide

F :

Ratio of oil volume fraction to water volume fraction in GC sample


Gas chromatograph/chromatography

h :

Height of empty column section

\({M}_{\mathrm{ds}}\) :

Mass of dry sand

\({M}_{\mathrm{ec}}\) :

Mass of empty column section

\({M}_\mathrm{T}\) :

Mass of column section containing sand, oil, air and water


Non-aqueous-phase liquid

\({N}_{\mathrm{cap}}\) :

Capillary number


Part per million


Pore volume

r :

Internal radius of column section

\(\phi \) :


\({S}_\mathrm{i}\) :

Initial saturation

\({S}_\mathrm{r}\) :

Residual saturation

\({S}_\mathrm{g}\) :

Gas saturation

\({S}_{\mathrm{gi}}\) :

Initial gas saturation

\({S}_{\mathrm{gr}}\) :

Residual gas saturation

\({S}_\mathrm{o}\) :

Oil saturation

\({S}_{\mathrm{oi}}\) :

Initial oil saturation

\({S}_{\mathrm{or}}\) :

Residual oil saturation

\({S}_{\mathrm{wi}}\) :

Initial water saturation

\({S}_\mathrm{w}\) :

Water saturation

\({S}_{\mathrm{ni}}\) :

Total initial saturation of oil and gas

\({S}_{\mathrm{nr}}\) :

Total residual saturation of oil and gas

\({S}_{\mathrm{(nw)r}}\) :

Residual saturation of non-wetting phase

\({S_{\mathrm{or}}^{3\mathrm{p}}}\) :

Residual oil saturation after waterflood in the presence of gas

\(S_{\mathrm{or}}^{2\mathrm{p}}\) :

Residual oil saturation after two-phase waterflood

\(S_{\mathrm{gr}}^{3\mathrm{p}}\) :

Residual gas saturation in the presence of oil and water

\(v\) :

Darcy velocity

\({V}_\mathrm{B}\) :

Bulk volume of empty column section

\({V}_\mathrm{o}\) :

Volume of oil in sliced column section

\({V}_\mathrm{w}\) :

Volume of water in sliced column section

\(\rho _\mathrm{g}\) :

Density of air

\(\rho _\mathrm{o}\) :

Density of oil

\(\rho _\mathrm{w}\) :

Density of water

\(\upmu \) :


\(\sigma \) :

Interfacial tension


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The authors gratefully acknowledge support from Shell under the Shell-Imperial Grand Challenge on Clean Fossil Fuels.

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Correspondence to Benny Amaechi.

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Amaechi, B., Iglauer, S., Pentland, C.H. et al. An Experimental Study of Three-Phase Trapping in Sand Packs. Transp Porous Med 103, 421–436 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11242-014-0309-4

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  • Capillary trapping
  • Gas chromatography
  • Initial gas saturation
  • Residual gas saturation
  • Sand packs
  • Three-phase