By nature of its adsorption on solid surfaces, the corrosion inhibitor is a surface-active agent with a unique purpose—to protect pipe rather than to change acid behavior in the formation. Corrosion inhibitors do not stop corrosion; they greatly reduce the reaction rate of acid with steel. Proper selection and application of corrosion inhibitors also reduce pitting (the tendency of acid to corrode or dissolve metal deeply in specific sites). Corrosion inhibitors are cationic and oil wetters. This is the mechanism by which they adsorb (plate out) on a metal surface and form an oil-wet film to protect the iron from exposure to acid. Plating out and oil wetting also occur in the formation, especially on clay minerals. To compensate for this, other additives, such as surfactants and mutual solvents, are used to restore water-wetness and maximize permeability to oil.
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