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Oil viscosity

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Absolute viscosity provides a measure of a fluid’s internal resistance to flow. For liquids, viscosity corresponds to the informal notion of "thickness". For example, honey has a higher viscosity than water.

Any calculation involving the movement of fluids requires a value of viscosity. This parameter is required for conditions ranging from surface gathering systems to the reservoir. Correlations for the calculation of viscosity can be expected to evaluate viscosity for temperatures ranging from 35 to 300°F.

Newtonian fluids

Fluids that exhibit viscosity behavior independent of shear rate are described as being Newtonian fluids. Viscosity correlations discussed in this page apply to Newtonian fluids.

Factors affecting viscosity

The principal factors affecting viscosity are:

  • Oil composition
  • Temperature
  • Dissolved gas
  • Pressure

Oil composition

Typically, oil composition is described by API gravity only. The use of both the API gravity and the Watson characterization factor provides a more complete description of the oil. Table 1 shows an example for a 35° API gravity oil that points out the relationship of viscosity and chemical makeup recalling a characterization factor of 12.5 is reflective of highly paraffinic oils, while a value of 11.0 is indicative of a naphthenic oil. Clearly, chemical composition, in addition to API gravity, plays a role in the viscosity behavior of crude oil. Fig. 1 shows the effect of crude oil characterization factor on dead oil viscosity. In general, viscosity characteristics are predictable. Viscosity increases with decreases in crude oil API gravity (assuming a constant Watson characterization factor) and decreases in temperature. The effect of solution gas is to reduce viscosity. Above saturation pressure, viscosity increases almost linearly with pressure. Fig. 2 provides the typical shape of reservoir oil viscosity at constant temperature.

Viscosity calculations

Viscosity calculations for live reservoir oils require a multistep process involving separate correlations for each step of the process. Dead or gas-free oil viscosity is determined as a function of crude oil API gravity and temperature. The viscosity of the gas saturated oil is found as a function of dead oil viscosity and solution gas-oil ratio (GOR). Undersaturated oil viscosity is determined as a function of gas saturated oil viscosity and pressure above saturation pressure.

Figs. 3 and 4 summarize all of the dead oil viscosity correlations described in Tables 2 and 3.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25] The results provided by Fig. 4 show that the method proposed by Standing[23] is not suited for crude oil with gravities less than 28°API. Al-Kafaji et al.‘s[10] method is unsuited for crudes with gravities less than 15°API, while Bennison’s[21] method, developed primarily for low API gravity North Sea crudes, is not suited for gravities greater than 30°API.

Comparison of different methods

Fig. 5 provides an annotated list of the most commonly used correlation methods for calculating viscosity. The results illustrate the trend for dead oil viscosity and temperature. As temperature decreases, viscosity increases. At temperatures below 75°F, the method of Beggs and Robinson[5] significantly overpredicts viscosity while Standing’s method actually shows a decrease in viscosity. These tendencies make these methods unsuitable for use in the temperature range associated with pipelines. Beal’s[3][4] method was developed from observations of dead oil viscosity at 100 and 200°F and has a tendency to underpredict viscosity at high temperature. Dead oil viscosity correlations are somewhat inaccurate because they fail to take into account the chemical nature of the crude oil. Only methods developed by Standing[23] and Fitzgerald[18][19][20] take into account the chemical nature of crude oil through use of the Watson characterization factor. Fitzgerald’s method was developed over a wide range of conditions, as detailed in Tables 2 and 3, and is the most versatile method suitable for general use of the correlations listed in that table. Chapter 11 of API Technical Data Book - Petroleum Refining[19] includes a graphic showing the area of applicability for Fitzgerald’s method.

Andrade’s[1][2] method is based on the observation that the logarithm of viscosity plotted vs. reciprocal absolute temperature forms a linear relationship from somewhat above the normal boiling point to near the freezing point of the oil, as Fig. 6 shows. Andrade’s method is applied through the use of measured dead oil viscosity data points taken at low pressure and two or more temperatures. Data should be acquired at temperatures over the range of interest. This method is recommended when measured dead oil viscosity data are available.

Bubblepoint oil viscosity methods

Tables 4 and 5[5][7][8][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17][22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29] provide a complete summary of the bubblepoint oil viscosity methods.

Correlations for bubblepoint oil viscosity typically take the form proposed by Chew and Connally. [26] This method forms a correlation with dead oil viscosity and solution GOR where A and B are determined as functions of solution GOR.


Figs. 7 and 8 shows the correlations for the A and B parameters developed by various authors. Fig. 9 shows the effect of the A and B correlation parameters on the prediction of viscosity. This plot was developed with a dead oil viscosity value of 1.0 cp so the effect of solution GOR could be examined. Correlations proposed by Labedi, [7][8] Khan et al., [28] and Almehaideb[29] do not specifically use dead oil viscosity and solution GOR and were not included in this plot.

Correlations for undersaturated oil

When pressure increases above bubblepoint, the oil becomes undersaturated. In this region, oil viscosity increases nearly linearly with pressure. Tables 6 and 7[3][4][7][8][11][12][13][14][15][16][17][19][22][25][29][30][31][32][33] provide correlations for modeling undersaturated oil viscosity. Fig. 10 presents a visual comparison of the methods.


μob = bubblepoint oil viscosity, m/Lt, cp
μod = dead oil viscosity, m/Lt, cp


  1. 1.0 1.1 Andrade, E.N. da C. 1930. The Viscosity of Liquids. Nature 125: 309–310.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Reid, R.C., Prausnitz, J.M., and Sherwood, T.K. 1977. The Properties of Gases and Liquids, third edition, 435–439. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Beal, C. 1970. The Viscosity of Air, Water, Natural Gas, Crude Oil and Its Associated Gases at Oil Field Temperatures and Pressures, No. 3, 114–127. Richardson, Texas: Reprint Series (Oil and Gas Property Evaluation and Reserve Estimates), SPE. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "r3" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "r3" defined multiple times with different content
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Standing, M.B. 1981. Volumetric and Phase Behavior of Oil Field Hydrocarbon Systems, ninth edition. Richardson, Texas: Society of Petroleum Engineers of AIME
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Beggs, H.D. and Robinson, J.R. 1975. Estimating the Viscosity of Crude Oil Systems. J Pet Technol 27 (9): 1140-1141. SPE-5434-PA.
  6. Glasø, Ø. 1980. Generalized Pressure-Volume-Temperature Correlations. J Pet Technol 32 (5): 785-795. SPE-8016-PA.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Labedi, R.M. 1982. PVT Correlations of the African Crudes. PhD thesis. 1982. . PhD thesis, Colorado School of Mines, Leadville, Colorado (May 1982).
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Labedi, R. 1992. Improved correlations for predicting the viscosity of light crudes. J. Pet. Sci. Eng. 8 (3): 221-234.
  9. Ng, J.T.H. and Egbogah, E.O. 1983. An Improved Temperature-Viscosity Correlation For Crude Oil Systems. Presented at the Annual Technical Meeting, Banff, Canada, 10–13 May. PETSOC-83-34-32.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Al-Khafaji, A.H., Abdul-Majeed, G.H. and Hassoon, S.F. 1987. Viscosity Correlation For Dead, Live And Undersaturated Crude Oils. J. Pet. Res. (December): 1–16.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Petrosky, G.E. Jr. 1990. PVT Correlations for Gulf of Mexico Crude Oils. MS thesis. 1990. . MS thesis, University of Southwestern Louisiana, Lafayette, Louisiana.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Petrosky, G.E. Jr. and Farshad, F.F. 1995. Viscosity Correlations for Gulf of Mexico Crude Oils. Presented at the SPE Production Operations Symposium, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA, 2-4 April. SPE-29468-MS.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Kartoatmodjo, R.S.T. 1990. New Correlations for Estimating Hydrocarbon Liquid Properties. MS thesis, University of Tulsa, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Kartoatmodjo, T.R.S. and Schmidt, Z. 1991. New Correlations for Crude Oil Physical Properties, Society of Petroleum Engineers, unsolicited paper 23556-MS.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Kartoatmodjo, T. and Z., S. 1994. Large Data Bank Improves Crude Physical Property Correlations. Oil Gas J. 92 (27): 51–55.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 De Ghetto, G. and Villa, M. 1994. Reliability Analysis on PVT Correlations. Presented at the European Petroleum Conference, London, United Kingdom, 25-27 October. SPE-28904-MS.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 De Ghetto, G., Paone, F., and Villa, M. 1995. Pressure-Volume-Temperature Correlations for Heavy and Extra Heavy Oils. Presented at the SPE International Heavy Oil Symposium, Calgary, 19-21 June. SPE-30316-MS.
  18. 18.0 18.1 Fitzgerald, D.J. 1994. A Predictive Method for Estimating the Viscosity of Undefined Hydrocarbon Liquid Mixtures. MS thesis, Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pennsylvania.
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 Daubert, T.E. and Danner, R.P. 1997. API Technical Data Book—Petroleum Refining, 6th edition, Chap. 11. Washington, DC: American Petroleum Institute (API).
  20. 20.0 20.1 Sutton, R.P. and Farshad, F. 1990. Evaluation of Empirically Derived PVT Properties for Gulf of Mexico Crude Oils. SPE Res Eng 5 (1): 79-86. SPE-13172-PA.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Bennison, T. 1998. Prediction of Heavy Oil Viscosity. Presented at the IBC Heavy Oil Field Development Conference, London, 2–4 December.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Elsharkawy, A.M. and Alikhan, A.A. 1999. Models for predicting the viscosity of Middle East crude oils. Fuel 78 (8): 891–903.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 Whitson, C.H. and Brulé, M.R. 2000. Phase Behavior, No. 20, Chap. 3. Richardson, Texas: Henry L. Doherty Monograph Series, Society of Petroleum Engineers.
  24. 24.0 24.1 Bergman, D.F. 2004. Don’t Forget Viscosity. Presented at the Petroleum Technology Transfer Council 2nd Annual Reservoir Engineering Symposium, Lafayette, Louisiana, 28 July.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 Dindoruk, B. and Christman, P.G. 2001. PVT Properties and Viscosity Correlations for Gulf of Mexico Oils. Presented at the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition, New Orleans, 30 September-3 October. SPE-71633-MS.
  26. 26.0 26.1 Chew, J. and Connally, C.A. Jr. 1959. A Viscosity Correlation for Gas-Saturated Crude Oils. In Transactions of the American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, and Petroleum Engineers, Vol. 216, 23. Dallas, Texas: Society of Petroleum Engineers of AIME.
  27. Aziz, K. and Govier, G.W. 1972. Pressure Drop in Wells Producing Oil and Gas. J Can Pet Technol 11 (3): 38. PETSOC-72-03-04.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Khan, S.A., Al-Marhoun, M.A., Duffuaa, S.O. et al. 1987. Viscosity Correlations for Saudi Arabian Crude Oils. Presented at the Middle East Oil Show, Bahrain, 7-10 March. SPE-15720-MS.
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 Almehaideb, R.A. 1997. Improved PVT Correlations for UAE Crude Oils. Presented at the Middle East Oil Show and Conference, Bahrain, 15-18 March. SPE-37691-MS. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "r29" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "r29" defined multiple times with different content
  30. Kouzel, B. 1965. How Pressure Affects Liquid Viscosity. Hydrocarb. Process. (March 1965): 120.
  31. Vazquez, M.E. 1976. Correlations for Fluid Physical Property Prediction. MS thesis, University of Tulsa, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
  32. Vazquez, M. and Beggs, H.D. 1980. Correlations for Fluid Physical Property Prediction. J Pet Technol 32 (6): 968-970. SPE-6719-PA.
  33. Abdul-Majeed, G.H., Clark, K.K., and Salman, N.H. 1990. New Correlation For Estimating The Viscosity Of Undersaturated Crude Oils. J Can Pet Technol 29 (3): 80. PETSOC-90-03-10.

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See also

Gas viscosity

Fluid friction

Oil density

Oil fluid properties