It has been proven that polymer injection at early times is beneficial to offshore heavy oil recovery. It is of significant importance to optimize the polymer injection timing and decide the residual oil distribution after polymer flooding. Aiming at a specific offshore heavy oil reservoir in Bohai, China, the optimum polymer injection timing is investigated through laboratory experiments. The influence of polymer injection timing on oil displacement and remaining oil distribution is analyzed by combining macroscopic and microscopic flooding experiments. The results reveal that the optimum polymer injection timing should be close to the water breakthrough, i.e., just before the waterflooding front reaches the outlet of the core. In addition, the waterflooding front position is analytically solved by using the Buckley–Leverett method and verified by experimental results, which supply an approach to predict the polymer injection timing. When polymer is injected before the waterflood front reaches the outlet of the core, the mobility control ability of polymer solution can reduce the fraction of bypassed volume of the reservoir by waterflooding. The early injected polymer mainly enters the high permeability zone, which works positively in two ways. Firstly, it improves the oil displacement efficiency of the high permeability zone. Secondly, the polymer establishes a flow resistance in the high permeable zones, thus improving the sweep efficiency in the low and medium permeability zones. However, our residual oil distribution experiments illustrate that there is still a large amount of oil remaining in the low and medium permeability zones. Therefore, it is necessary to explore additional EOR methods to recover the abundant residual oil.
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