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Proceedings of the XVI ECSMGE

Geotechnical Engineering for Infrastructure and Development

ISBN 978-0-7277-6067-8
The authors and ICE Publishing: All rights reserved, 2015

Reassessment of geotechnical conditions after an

offshore well incident

Rvaluation des conditions gotechniques aprs un incident de puits

de forage en mer
J. Peuchen*1, B. Meijninger1 and T. Drummen1

Fugro, Netherlands
* Corresponding Author
ABSTRACT A well incident may affect the geotechnical reliability of the well itself and that of a nearby offshore structure. Offshore well
incidents can include (1) fluid and gas escape/seepage, (2) loss of drilling fluid, (3) drilling slow down or shut down and (4) well casing
buckling. This paper describes re-assessment of geotechnical conditions after an offshore well incident. The focus is on detection of geotechnical features or geohazards that can control post-incident conditions, particularly shallow gas and excess pore pressure. Presented
technologies include seismic reflection by use of ocean bottom nodes (OBN), acquisition of physical samples of gas in soil and measurement of pore pressure in gassy soil.
RSUM Un incident de puits de ptrole peut affecter la stabilit et lintgrit de ce mme puits et dune structure existante en mer
proximit de ce puits. Les incidents associs des puits ptroliers en mer comprennent (1) chappement et suintement de fluides ou de gaz,
(2) perte de boues de forage, (3) ralentissement ou arrt des oprations de forage et (4) rupture du cuvelage des puits de ptrole. Ce papier
dcrit la rvaluation des conditions gotechniques aprs un incident de puits de forage en mer. Ce papier met laccent sur la dtection de
caractristiques gotechniques ou dalas gologiques pouvant contrler ces mmes conditions aprs un incident en particulier les rservoirs de gaz faible profondeur et les surpressions deaux interstitielles. Les nouvelles technologies prsentes ici incluent la sismique rflexion utilisant des hydro- et gophones placs sur les fonds marins, encore appels Ocean Bottom Nodes (OBN), lacquisition
dchantillons physiques de gaz prsents dans le sol et la mesure des pressions deaux interstitielles dans les sols gazeux.


An offshore well provides access to an oil and/or gas

reservoir. Wells can be used for exploration, for production of oil and/or gas and for management of reservoir pressure.
Figure 1 illustrates typical components of an offshore well. The blowout preventer and associated
piping is above seafloor. Most of the well is below
seafloor. Well barrier elements include steel circular
pipes (casings) and grout. These elements are interacting with the surrounding ground. The integrity of
the well barrier elements is important for (1) preventing fluid or gas escape from one ground zone into
another, (2) fluid or gas escape from the well into the
ground surrounding the well, (3) fluid or gas escape

from the ground into the well and (4) fluid or gas escape into the marine and atmospheric environments.
The well conductor is the upper casing. It provides
bearing resistance against axial and lateral actions,
apart from its function as barrier element. Other
terms used for a well conductor include conductor
pipe, conductor casing, structural casing and well
casing. A well conductor can be installed by drilling,
jetting, impact driving and vibratory driving. Depths
to approximately 60 m to 80 m below seafloor are
typical. Deeper installation by impact driving is occasionally implemented, with constraints by high
steel stresses, fatigue damage and directional stability.
The casings are lowered into oversized holes that
are obtained from direct circulation drilling. The an-


Geotechnical Engineering for Infrastructure and Development

nulus between the ground and the casing, and overlapping casing elements is filled with grout.

Figure 1. Typical offshore well with blowout preventer, modified

after Evans et al. (2002) and NORSOK (2013). Figure not to scale.

Some statistics on wells, offshore UK only (Oil &

Gas UK 2014) reveal that:
More than 11,000 wells have been drilled since
exploration and production began.
In 2010, 28 exploration wells, 34 appraisal
wells and 129 developments wells were drilled.
Between 1990 and 2007, almost 800 occurrences related to problems with a well and/or a gas
blowout were reported.
In the context of this paper, a well incident is a
hazardous situation not developed into an accidental
situation. Low degree of damage, but repairs/ replacements are required (Oil & Gas UK 2009). ISO
(2013) defines an accidental situation as a design
situation involving exceptional conditions of the
structure or its exposure. Example: impact, fire, explosion, loss of intended differential pressure. An
offshore well fits the definition of offshore structure in the context of ISO (2013): structure used for
the development and production of offshore petroleum and natural gas fields in offshore areas.

It is important to distinguish well incidents from

well accidents. Well accidents involve a situation
which, in many cases, will lead to site abandonment.
Re-assessment of geotechnical conditions will then
not apply. DHSG (2011) and Wegerif et al. (2005)
give examples of well accidents. Well accidents often attract public attention and multi-party investigations. Well incidents can remain unpublished and
subject to confidentiality agreements.
Examples of well incidents are: loss of drilling fluid (Hobbs & Senner 1997; Allen et al. 2005); fluid
and gas escape/seepage (Lunne et al. 1996; Schroeder et al. 2007; Tjelta et al. 2007); open hole cave-in
(Schroeder et al. 2007); open hole squeezing (Kay
2005); well casing buckling (Allen et al., 2005); drilling slow down or shut down (Ruppelt & West 2004;
Tjelta et al. 2007). Examples of possible impacts on
offshore structures are: reduced geotechnical resistance of foundation (Lunne et al. 1996; Hobbs &
Senner 1997; Schroeder et al. 2007; Tjelta et al.
2007) and excessive lateral drift, inclination, deformation and settlement of a well (Allen et al. 2005;
Schroeder et al. 2007). Gas blowouts may, in some
cases, be considered as well incidents. For example a
gas blowout in an exploration well (Adams &
Kuhlman 1990; Danenberger 1993) can lead to well
abandonment but not necessarily to site abandonment.



Well incidents are usually subject to forensic engineering: the investigation of materials, products,
structures or components that fail or do not operate or
function as intended, causing personal injury or damage to property (Wikipedia 2015). Such investigation is covered by, for example, Section 12 Assessment of Existing Structures of ISO (2013). This
section states: An assessment shall be conducted to
this International Standard when an existing structure
has deteriorated significantly or has been damaged and: Where operational experience shows
that the acceptability of certain aspects of design is
uncertain, fitness-for-purpose shall be determined by
specific assessment and appropriate measures taken
to maintain acceptable standards of performance. It

Peuchen, Meijninger and Drummen

can be inferred that determination of fitness-forpurpose can include geotechnical conditions. More
specifically, re-assessment of geotechnical conditions
can be necessary to estimate change from geotechnical conditions present before the well incident.
In many situations, information on geotechnical
conditions after a well incident will not be complete
and exact. It is the authors experience that reassessment of geotechnical conditions will, therefore,
need to draw on so-called tacit expert knowledge.
This means senior expertise, with access to geotechnical knowledge and experience. Judgement and
opinion are inevitable and a senior expert or a team
of senior experts is more likely to arrive at a correct
understanding and an appropriate way forward.
Judgement is qualitative and subjective. It should
be expressed as clearly as possible. Common subjective terms used by engineers are low probability and
high probability, as illustrated by ISO (2013). Table 1 shows probability expressions proposed by the
authors. The expressions are intended for a context of
approximate and subjective probability of the occurrence of a hazardous event or phenomena during a
defined exposure period. The proposed probability
values are close to values given by more extensive
systems such as Vick (2002) and AGS (2000).
Note that event probability differs from risk,
where risk is defined as the product of probability
and consequence.
Table 1. Proposed expressions for approximate and subjective

Verbal descriptor


unlikely, although the possibility

cannot be ruled out completely
not probable, although uncertain
credible, possibility can be described
with reasonable confidence by known
physical conditions or processes


for exposure
0 to 0.01
0.01 to 0.1
0.1 to 1


An offshore well incident can change the geotechnical conditions in the vicinity of the well. Such anthropogenic change can affect (1) the installation feasibility or integrity of an offshore well or well cluster

and (2) the foundation reliability of another, nearby

offshore structure such as a fixed platform. Examples
of changes in geotechnical conditions are (Figure 2):
Scour crater or pockmark at seafloor.
Drill cuttings or grout blanket at seafloor.
Gas and/or fluid seepage through ground, escape at seafloor or trapped below foundation.
Excess pore pressure.
In-situ pore water replaced by gas, partially or
Gas release by melting of gas hydrates.
Reduction of ground strength and stiffness.
Long term ground compression/ consolidation.
Ground fractures with low strength and high
Cavity in ground.
Grout or drill fluid in ground fracture.
Note that this paper uses the terms seabed, ground
and soil. Seabed and ground are used interchangeably
and comprise soil and rock including pore fluid and
pore gas. Soil may be characterised by CPT cone resistance values (ISO 2014) of, say, 70 MPa or less.
Figure 2 shows a sand layer with in-situ pore pressure in excess of hydrostatic pore pressure. This is
also known as overpressured reservoir and may become a shallow water flow when penetrated by the
well. Seabed disturbance and erosion of the drill
hole (Figure 2) may also be referred to as formation
A well incident can only rarely be attributed to a
single cause, even human error. Multiple, interacting
issues typically contribute to a well incident. Tables 2
to 4 and Figure 3 illustrate interacting issues within a
context of re-assessment of geotechnical conditions,
Both well installation and well operation having
potential for causing changes in geotechnical
Possible contribution from adverse in-situ geotechnical conditions, present before well installation.
Changes in geotechnical conditions potentially
affecting subsequent well installation and/or
performance of a structure including the well
Potential overlap between well operation and
structure performance.


Geotechnical Engineering for Infrastructure and Development

The following example illustrates how Figure 3

and the accompanying Tables 2 to 4 can be read.
Consider that borehole squeezing and drill bit clogging took place when drilling in clay with a high
swelling potential. High drill fluid pressures were
then applied to re-establish flow of the drill fluid,

which led to weak ground zones, i.e. disturbed geotechnical conditions. These disturbed geotechnical
conditions led to post-installation settlement of the
well conductor and reduced the pile foundation capacity of a fixed jacket platform located at the well

Figure 2. Changes in geotechnical conditions after an offshore well incident (not to scale).


Peuchen, Meijninger and Drummen

Table 2. Adverse In-situ Geotechnical Conditions before Well Installation.
Swelling soil (clay mineralogy)
Limited resistance of
soil to chemical reaction
with drill fluid or grout
Underconsolidated state
of soil
Low soil strength, including ground discontinuities such as faults
and fissuring
Excess pore pressure in
Pockmark with active
gas and/or fluid expulsion
Gassy soil

Table 4. Post Installation/Well Operation.

Excessive well pressure
or temperature
Fatigue or ageing of
grout by frequent cycling
of well pressure and temperature
Exposure of steel to corrosive agents
Erosion of grout and/or
soil due to fluid or gas
Dissolution of dissolved
in-situ gas from pore water in soil

No or narrow window
for pressure-balanced
drilling or grouting of
open hole
Balling up of clay in
drill bit or drill pipe
Gas/ fluid/ soil blowout
during open hole drilling
Ground compression
causing stress/strain
build-up around well

Potential consequences
Gas/ fluid/ soil blowout
and associated hazard of
toxic gas, fire, explosion
Reduction of geotechnical
bearing resistance to extreme applied actions to
well conductor and foundation of nearby structure
Movement/ damage/
change of dynamic response of well conductor
and foundation of nearby
Fluid and gas escape/seepage through barrier system (steel, grout
and ground)

Table 3. Well Installation.

Blockage of drill bit or
drill pipe by balling of
clay or deficient drilling
Open hole cave-in by
erosion or chemical degradation of soil around
open hole (interaction between drill fluid and soil)
Open hole cave-in by
piping (fluid pressure difference between in-situ
groundwater and drill fluid in open hole, including
shallow water flow)
Open hole cave-in by
shallow gas escape from
Open hole squeezing by
low drill fluid or grout
pressures, including
swabbing pressures
Open hole squeezing by
swelling soil
Loss of drill fluid or
grout into soil by high
drill fluid or grout pressures, including surging
Grout overflow at seafloor

Potential consequences
Drilling slow down or
shut down because of loss
of window for pressurebalanced drilling or grouting of open hole
Gas/ fluid/ soil blowout
during open hole drilling
and associated hazards of
toxic gas, fire, explosion
Reduction of geotechnical
bearing resistance to extreme applied actions to
well conductor and foundation of nearby structure
Movement/ damage/
change of dynamic response of well conductor
and foundation of nearby
Fluid and gas escape/seepage through incomplete grout barrier
and through ground
Reduction of durability of
well conductor

Figure 3. Re-assessment of geotechnical conditions after an offshore well incident.


Investigation approach

Methodology adopted for re-assessment of geotechnical conditions is typically as follows:

Step 1: Develop hypotheses and qualitative models for the possible consequences of the well incident
with respect to geotechnical conditions existing after
the well incident.
Step 2: Conduct seafloor surveying and monitoring (tools of Table 5) and progress hypotheses and
quantification of the models of Step 1.


Geotechnical Engineering for Infrastructure and Development

Step 3: Acquire data using other tools of Table 5

and update the hypotheses and models of Step 2.
Qualitative development of a model of geotechnical conditions existing after the well incident typically integrates:
Information on the well incident, including hypotheses on the cause of and contributing factors to the well incident.
Well behaviour and nearby structure behaviour
during/after the well incident.
Well logging results and details of the well and
nearby structure designs, installation and operation before occurrence of the well incident.
Geotechnical conditions before the well incident, including historic geotechnical data,
changes in geotechnical conditions after historic data acquisition but before the well incident.
Hypotheses on the possible consequences of the
well incident with respect to geotechnical conditions.
Opportunities for mitigation measures.
In other words, Step 1 consists of integrated geoscience study (Table 5) using any relevant information at hand. If the results of Step 1 are adequate
for structure reliability, then Steps 2 and 3 will not be
Step 1 can also provide a first indication of the
probability of Steps 2 and 3 actually detecting features or geohazards that control the geotechnical
conditions existing after the well incident. Figure 4
illustrates the potential of actually detecting features
that control the geotechnical conditions existing after
the well incident. An example of a distinct feature
would be 50% loss of soil strength compared to preincident conditions. A strength loss of 10% would be
indistinct. An example of local versus widely spread
features would be excess pore pressure trapped within a small zone versus excess pore pressure throughout the seabed.
For Steps 2 and 3, the investigation tools of Table 5 and their applicability should be matched with
the hypotheses on the possible consequences of the
well incident. Such matching often requires expert
knowledge of capabilities and limitations of the investigation tools actually available. Examples are
given in practice notes, below.


Table 5. Tools for (re)-assessment of geotechnical conditions

(modified after Peuchen 2012).
Integrated geoscience study* - Interpretation
Remote sensing Seafloor surveying: video/ photographic
imaging, 3D object scanning, sidescan sonar, echosounder
Surveying below seafloor: seismic reflection, seismic refraction, electromagnetic,
electric resistivity
In-situ testing, sampling, borehole geoinvestigation
physical logging
Laboratory test- Geologic and geotechnical sample logging
and laboratory testing
Physical model- Centrifuge modelling, scaled
physical modelling, load testing
Monitoring of seabed pore pressure, seabed gas, seabed scour, structure movement
Integrated geoscience study Interpretation
*Bringing together and integrating scientific knowledge with data
acquired from remote sensing, intrusive investigation, simulation
and observations, with a theoretical basis of physics, geomorphology, geology and soil mechanics and foundation engineering principles, and applying logic and judgement.

Figure 4. Potential for detecting features or geohazards that control geotechnical conditions. Refer to main text for explanation.

Tools for seafloor surveying and observation (Step

2 and Table 5) can often be deployed at or close to a
well and any associated structure(s). They typically
provide 100% seafloor coverage. The acquired information can provide indirect evidence about hypotheses and consequences.

Peuchen, Meijninger and Drummen

It will generally be necessary to go to Step 3 for

obtaining quantitative information about geotechnical
conditions below seafloor.
It is important to note that tool deployment at or
close to a well would be valuable, but may not be
feasible for Step 3. A stand-off distance is often inevitable. Reasons for a stand-off distance can include
the following.
The footprint of an existing structure prevents
tool access.
A vessel required for tool deployment can pose
a hazard for accidental impact against an existing structure (including a well). This may not
apply to subsea structures. Similarly, the tool itself can pose a hazard for accidental impact.
In-ground structural elements (such as a well or
a foundation pile) preclude reliable interpretation of acquired data because of near-field effects in remote sensing.
Tool deployment may cause further change in
geotechnical conditions. Intrusive investigation
and intrusive monitoring introduce a hole into
the ground, at least temporarily. An open hole
can affect the in-situ pore pressure, the existing
equilibrium between pore water, gas and soil
chemistry. A gas blowout caused by open-hole
drilling would be an example of an unwanted
change in equilibrium. Note that gas blowouts
are very rare for push-in intrusive techniques
(FS mode, push-in, directly From Seafloor, Table 6), as explained by Kortekaas & Peuchen
The access constraint implies that re-assessment of
geotechnical conditions may be limited to demonstrating that no widespread consequences apply (Figure 4). In other words, access to a local feature may
not be practicable. This situation applied to some of
the cases investigated by the authors.


Tool Selection

Table 6 presents general guidance on tool selection

for investigation below seafloor. This supports decisions on and implementation of Step 3.

Table 6. Investigation tools for re-assessment of geotechnical conditions (adapted from Peuchen 2012).


Depth Applicability
(A) (B) (C)

Surveying Below Seafloor

Seismic reflection
2D & 3D >400 +
--Seismic refraction
>400 +
2D & 3D >400 +/- --Electric resistivity
2D & 3D >400 +/- +/- -Continuous Intrusive Investigation
Logging While Drilling IB
>400 -+/LWD
Geophysical downhole IB
>400 +
Non-pressure (core)
BD & FS >400 ++ +
Cone Penetration Test
BD & FS >400 ++ -+
Ball Penetration Test
BD & FS <100 ++ -+
T-bar Penetration Test FS
++ -+
Seismic downhole test BD & FS <100 +
-+/Non-Continuous Intrusive Investigation
P-S suspension logging IB
>400 +
-+/Pore pressure dissipaBD & FS >400 ++ -++
tion test with piezoprobe, CPT or BPT
Pressure (core) samBD
>400 ++ ++
In-situ pore water sam- BD
>400 -+
Hydraulic Fracture Test IB
>400 --+
HFT by resettable
Temperature probe
BD & FS >400 +/- +/- -Monitoring
Pore pressure monitor- FS & IB
>400 --++
ing by pressure sensor
Legend: Depth Limit is relative to seafloor and for favourable soil
conditions; (A) = general geotechnical conditions (physical); (B) =
geo-chemical character of soil, pore water and/or gas; (C) = in-situ
geo-stress conditions, including principal stresses and equilibrium
pore water pressure; ++ = high applicability; + = medium applicability; +/- = possible applicability; -- = no applicability; 2D = twodimensional plane; 3D = three-dimensional space; BD = push-in,
from Below Drillbit; FS = push-in, directly From Seafloor; IB = In

The following sections provide practice notes for

some of investigation tools of Table 6. The choice for
discussion of these tools relates largely to the authors experience with re-assessment of geotechnical
conditions. In this regard it may be noted that in-situ
gas and excess pore pressure are common themes for
hydrocarbon wells and well incidents in particular.

Geotechnical Engineering for Infrastructure and Development


Seismic reflection

Results of seismic reflection survey should routinely

be available from before well installation (OGP
2011), i.e. for Step 1 of the investigation approach.
Usually, survey coverage for a well location consists
of one or two 2D profiles (in-line and cross-line) interpreted from data acquired by multiple seismic reflection systems.
The use of 3D high-resolution systems (for example Petersen et al. 2010) is still uncommon for specific survey of the upper few hundred metres below seafloor.
Step 3 of the investigation approach may include a
re-survey. Such re-survey is common only if suspected changes in geotechnical conditions include shallow gas issues or substantial fluid flow structures.
The following notes are offered for shallow gas imaging:
Seismic reflection data can detect shallow gas
at >1% free gas by volume of seabed (Schroot
& Schuttenhelm 2003). The pressure setting
and volume of free gas cannot be resolved from
seismic reflection data.
No reliable data interpretation is feasible below
a level of gas blanking with high frequency systems.
Low frequency systems offer improved imaging of seabed including shallow gas than high
frequency systems. The improved imaging is at
the expense of detectability and resolution.
Depending on the type of system used, thin soil
layers containing shallow gas can remain undetected. Limits for layer thickness are about
0.1 m to 0.6 m for pinger and chirp systems,
0.5 m to 3 m for boomer and sparker systems
and 5 m to 30 m for mini gun and air gun systems.
Developments in geophysical survey show emerging opportunities for seismic reflection data providing information about geotechnical properties, notably shear wave velocity. For example, 4C OBN
systems can be considered. An ocean bottom node
OBN is an autonomous seismic recording unit positioned on the seafloor. A 4C system records 4 components (4C): three components for recording seabed
motion and one for seawater pressure. This allows
data processing and interpretation for shear wave velocity. However, the step of transformation of pres202

sure wave signals (P-wave) to shear wave (S-wave)

velocity is still experimental.
Mitigation measures for stand-off distance (see investigation approach above) include use of (1) undershooting techniques and (2) deployment of OBNs
(OGP, 2011).
Undershooting allows seabed imaging below
acoustic obstructions embedded in the seabed, such
as piles of a fixed jacket platform. The undershooting
technique requires two geophysical vessels operating
simultaneously and passing the obstruction on opposite sides at a stand-off distance.
A grid of OBNs can be used in close proximity
around an offshore well, below and near a fixed jacket platform (Koster et al. 2011) and in water depths
as shallow as a few metres. OBN positioning and recovery require operations by remotely operated vehicle (ROV) or by divers. OBN seismic reflection requires a separate, single source vessel. This vessel
can maintain stand-off distance. OBN survey allows
seabed imaging below acoustic obstructions and, under favourable conditions, in between obstructions
embedded in the seabed.

Cone penetration test

The (piezo)cone penetration test (ISO 2014) is used

in most cases of re-assessment of geotechnical conditions involving Step 3.
The necessary CPT push equipment implies frequent issues with stand-off distance, as discussed
CPTs provide excellent 1-D profiling of mechanical properties of soils, mainly soil behaviour type,
soil strength and properties that may be inferred from
soil strength. Feature detectability is in the order of
25 mm in the vertical direction.
A smear zone develops around a cone penetrometer during penetration into soil. This implies that (hydraulic) fractures will usually remain undetected.
Softened soil zones should be detectable if
strength loss is above, say, 30% compared to undisturbed soil.
Cone penetration involves full displacement soil
behaviour, inevitably affecting in-situ gas equilibrium. In addition, BD (push-in, from Below Drillbit,
Table 6) mode can affect in-situ gas equilibrium, as
discussed for pore pressure. It is the authors experience that a CPT by itself cannot provide conclusive

Peuchen, Meijninger and Drummen

evidence about the presence or absence of in-situ free

gas in soil. At times, CPTs appear to provide indications of in-situ free gas in soil. Examples are (1) a
sluggish response or step-wise signature in CPT pore
pressure and (2) a peak in CPT pore pressure in a
high-permeability soil layer, just below lowpermeability soil. Peuchen & Terwindt (2014) and
Peuchen & Klein (2011) give background information.

pressure connection between drill fluid and pore fluid. This is occasionally overlooked by some in practice. Checks and mitigation can consider (a) comparison of test results for multiple test points, (b)
maximising the distance between a test point and the
drill bit, (c) selecting a soil zone with a low permeability layer between the bottom of the borehole and
the test point.

Pore pressure dissipation test

Equilibrium pore pressure is often a key parameter

for re-assessment of geotechnical conditions. Pore
pressure may be non-uniform after a well incident.
Elevated pore pressures may also be present, particularly in higher permeability zones such as sands, fractured soils and natural discontinuities. A pore pressure dissipation test (PPDT) can establish an in-situ
equilibrium pore pressure at a selected point in soil.
In most cases, a vertical pore pressure profile is acquired by multiple tests, in combination with cone
penetration testing.
The common PPDT hardware types are the piezocone penetrometer (ISO 2014) and the piezoprobe
(Figure 5). The measuring tool affects the measurand,
as is the case with many measurements. Push-in of
the tool causes a temporary and local change of insitu pore pressures. Re-establishment of equilibrium
pore pressure is necessary, which is slow for fine
grained soils (silts and clays). The required test time
is roughly proportional to soil permeability and the
square of the diameter of a probe. Data processing relies on extrapolation of measured pore pressure dissipation data on an inverse time scale, 1/t-method. For
coarse grained soils (e.g. clean sands), equilibrium
pore pressure can usually be inferred from the penetration phase, i.e. is local pore pressure dissipation
sufficiently quick so that no penetration interruption
is necessary.
It can be noted that deployment mode BD (pushin, from Below Drillbit, Table 6) implies inevitable
pressure differences between the drill fluid in the
borehole and in-situ pore pressures below the bottom
of the borehole. The resulting pressure difference is
negligible for homogeneous fine grained soils at say
>0.5 m below the bottom of the borehole. In case of
fractured/ fissured soils and coarse grained soils, test
results for BD mode should be checked for possible

Figure 5. PPDT hardware, with diameter in millimetres and arrow

indicating measuring position for pore pressure (Peuchen & Klein

Nageswaran (1983) demonstrated that measurement of pore fluid pressure in gassy soils could require special precautions not required for watersaturated soil. Gas migration into the measuring sys-


Geotechnical Engineering for Infrastructure and Development

tem can cause a delay in response and, more important, may give readings higher than the actual
pore water pressure. Figure 6 illustrates the conclusions of Nageswaran for a piezocone penetrometer:
measured pressure u2 = u + 2T(1/rsb 1/rm), where u
is in-situ pore pressure, rsb is bubble radius at the
soil-filter interface, rm is bubble radius at the inlet or
throat to the pressure sensor, and T (or or ) is surface tension. In practice, effects should typically be
less than 5 kPa because of the use of a low-entry filter material and a relatively large throat size for the
pressure measuring system.
To the knowledge of the authors, none of the currently available PPDT systems incorporate active
protection (e.g. flushing system) against gas migration affecting pore water pressure measurement.

gas saturation of pore water can provide indications

about, for example, the presence or absence of free
gas in soil.
In-situ pore water sampling has been conducted
infrequently since the 1980s. Practice has modestly
progressed, e.g. Rad (1988); Christian and Cranston
(1997); Tervoort & Peuchen (2007). A recent improvement (2012) for the Fugro pore water sampler
(Figure 7) is the incorporation of a proportional control system that keeps a low and constant underpressure during sampling. Note that a large difference between in-situ pore pressure and pressure inside the sample container can exsolve a large amount
of gas out of solution. The solubility of gas in pore
water reduces with decreasing pressure. A large pressure difference can thus underestimate water-gas saturation.
Deployment mode BD (push-in, from Below
Drillbit, Table 6) implies inevitable stress relief below the bottom of a borehole, compared to equilibrium in-situ conditions. This in turn provides opportunity for initially dissolved gas becoming free gas,
which can then escape from the soil into the borehole. Such escape is unlikely for fine grained soils
and but cannot be excluded for coarse grained soils
with their limited sealing capacity. Gas escape can
lead to underestimates of the degree of gas saturation
of pore water. Mitigation can consider (a) maximising sampling depth below drill bit, (b) minimising
swabbing pressures in the drill fluid maintained in
the borehole.

Figure 6. Free gas affecting measured pore pressure (modified after Nageswaran 1983).


In-situ pore water sampling

In-situ pore water sampling can support: (1) measurement of the geochemical character of pore water
and of any gas dissolved in the pore water and (2)
measurement of the degree of gas saturation of pore
The geochemistry of in-situ pore water can provide information about the trigger and consequences
of a well incident. For example, the type of dissolved
gas can provide an indication of gas escape from a
gas reservoir and its influence on geotechnical conditions. This example assumes geochemical differences
between reservoir gas and in-situ shallow gas present
in the seabed before well installation. The degree of

Sample container casing

Inlet filter for pore water sampling

Filter for in-situ pore pressure testing
Sensor for in-situ temperature testing

Figure 7. Fugro pore water sampler.

Peuchen, Meijninger and Drummen


Non-pressure sampling

Non-pressure sampling is used in most cases of reassessment of geotechnical conditions involving

Step 3.
Table 6 lists non-pressure sampling under continuous intrusive investigation. This is indeed feasible. In practice, discontinuous investigation in deployment mode BD (push-in, from Below Drillbit) is
frequently applied, with vertical data coverage typically ranging between 30% and 80%.
Emphasis here is on non-pressure, i.e. conventional soil sampling as per ISO (2014) or equivalent.
Non-pressure sampling differs from pressure sampling (Table 6) with regard to preservation of in-situ
(ambient) geo-stress conditions upon sample recovery.
The necessary equipment for sampler deployment
implies frequent issues with stand-off distance, as
discussed above.
Non-pressure sampling provides opportunity for
laboratory analysis of the geo-chemical character of
pore water and, to a lesser degree, the geo-chemical
character and quantity of gas in soil. The principal
difficulty with gas analysis is the loss of ambient
pressure conditions upon sample recovery and handling. This can lead to (1) complete loss of in-situ gas
from the sample and (2) undetected mixing of in-situ
gas with atmospheric gas of the same composition,
e.g. CO2. Nevertheless, plausible estimates of gas
composition have been obtained in practice. Procedures included:
Use of samplers fitted with liners
Sealing of the soil-filled liners as soon as possible after sample recovery
Gas sub-sampling by syringe in soil cavities inferred from visual inspection of transparent liners or from X-ray tomography
Detailing of sub-sampling for maximum retention of in-situ gas
Gas chromatography.
The observed cavities in the soil samples probably
originated from some combination of sample handling and changes in pressure and temperature.


A well incident may affect the geotechnical performance of the well itself and that of a nearby offshore
structure. It may be required to perform a reassessment of geotechnical conditions after an offshore well incident. The approach for such investigation is the same at that for routine design, except that
anthropogenic factors will add complexity. Expert
judgement, attention to detail and suitable investigation tools are essential to arriving at informed estimates of geotechnical risk.
The authors are indebted to many dedicated colleagues in industry and gratefully acknowledge
Fugros persistent commitment to excellence. The
opinions expressed in this paper are those of the authors. They are not necessarily shared by Fugro.
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