Low permeability cap rocks retain oil by capillary forces when the pore throats of the seals are sufficiently small to prevent a flux of oil into the cap rock. In order to investigate the influence of aquifer overpressures on oil retention, water pressure was applied to a water-wet, highly permeable (1988 mD) core sample, which was oil-saturated to irreducible water saturation Swi and mounted with a low-permeability and water-wet membrane at the outlet. A water pressure difference of 0.5 MPa was applied across the core. This pressure was high enough to ensure fluid flow through the sample. The experiment was designed to see whether the water pressure would force oil through the membrane or if capillary forces at the sandstone–membrane interface would retain the oil, in which case water flow might take place in the (residual) water in the core and through the membrane.
The experiment showed that oil was kept in place by capillary forces while water flowed through the core and the membrane. Accordingly, residual water can move through sandstones that are saturated to Swi. The experiments also demonstrated that the permeability associated with this residual water is high enough to prevent overpressures in the aquifer below the oil–water contact from pushing oil through a membrane seal. Thus, even for this highly permeable sandstone, the overpressure in the aquifer will not cause capillary seal failure.