X-ray computed microtomography (XMT) was used to establish why pore-filling Cr(III)-acetate-HPAM gels reduced permeability to water much more than to oil. Our results suggest that permeability to water was reduced to low values because water must flow through gel itself, whereas oil pressing on the gel in Berea sandstone or porous polyethylene forced pathways by dehydration—leading to relatively high permeability to oil. In very permeable sand packs, data from other researchers supports ripping or extrusion mechanisms for creating oil pathways.

Our XMT studies provide interesting insights into imbibition and drainage processes in water-wet and oil-wet porous media even before gel placement. Many of our observations were consistent with conventional wisdom. However, some were unexpected. Residual wetting phase (water) saturations in Berea were surprisingly low valued in small pores. We attribute this to surface roughness due to clay coating on Berea’s pore walls which allowed efficient water drainage from small pores during oil injection.