A three-dimensional physical experiment was conducted to study secondary oil migration under an impermeable inclined cap. Light-colored oil was released continuously at a slow rate of about 0.1 mL/min from a point at the base of an initially water-saturated porous model. With buoyancy as a primary driving force, a vertical cylindrical shape of an oil migration pathway was observed first, and then a layer-shaped lateral migration pathway was observed beneath the top inclined sealing plate once the oil cluster had reached the top cap. Magnetic resonance imaging was used to observe the migration processes—for example, morphology of the migration pathway, intermittency of oil bubbles, and variation of oil saturation within the migration paths. Results show that the snap-off phenomenon (related to fast local imbibition processes) occurred more commonly during vertical migration than it did during lateral migration. The lateral migration pathway that parallels to the top inclined cap has a typical vertical thickness of 2 to 4 cm (0.8–1.6 in.) (i.e., roughly 40–80 pores). This thickness is consistent with the prediction derived from scaling laws related to pore size and Bond number. Along the lateral migration direction, the sectional area and the horizontal width of the migration pathway fluctuate significantly, although the average oil saturation along the pathway remains almost the same. After stopping the initial oil injection, the sectional area of the migration pathway shrinks significantly. Therefore, we believe that this significant shrinking of the migration pathway is the main reason why only a relatively small volume of oil and gas has been lost during secondary migration.

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