Field-scale observations suggest that rock heterogeneities control subsurface fluid flow, and these must be characterised for accurate predictions of fluid migration, such as during \CO2 sequestration. Recent efforts have focused on simulation-based inversion of laboratory observations with X-ray imaging, but models produced in this way have been limited in their predictive ability for heterogeneous rocks. We address the main challenges in this approach through an algorithm that combines: a 3-parameter capillary pressure model, spatial heterogeneity in absolute permeability, the constraint of history match iterations based on marginal error improvement, and image processsing that incorporates more of the experimental data in the calibration. We demonstrate the improvements on five rocks (two sandstones and three carbonates), representing a range of heterogeneous properties, some of which could not be previously modelled. The algorithm results in physically representative models of the rock cores, reducing non-systematic error to a level comparable to the experimental uncertainty.
Many subsurface fluid flows, including the storage of CO underground or the production of oil, are transient processes incorporating multiple fluid phases. The fluids are not in equilibrium meaning macroscopic properties such as fluid saturation and pressure vary in space and time. However, these flows are traditionally modelled with equilibrium (or steady-state) flow properties, under the assumption that the pore scale fluid dynamics are equivalent. In this work, we used fast synchrotron X-ray tomography with 1s time resolution to image the pore scale fluid dynamics as the macroscopic flow transitioned to steady-state. For nitrogen or decane, and brine injected simultaneously into a porous rock we observed distinct pore scale fluid dynamics during transient flow. Transient flow was found to be characterised by intermittent fluid occupancy, whereby flow pathways through the pore space were constantly rearranging. The intermittent fluid occupancy was largest and most frequent when a fluid initially invaded the rock. But as the fluids established an equilibrium the dynamics decreased to either static interfaces between the fluids or small-scale intermittent flow pathways, depending on the capillary number and viscosity ratio. If the fluids were perturbed after an equilibrium was established, by changing the flow rate, the transition to a new equilibrium was quicker than the initial transition. Our observations suggest that transient flows require separate modelling parameters. The timescales required to achieve equilibrium suggest that several metres of an invading plume front will have flow properties controlled by transient pore scale fluid dynamics.