Analysis of spatial variability in geotechnical data for offshore foundations
Deep foundations, such as piles and suction caissons, are used throughout an offshore oil and gas production facility in deepwater. Ideally, the values of geotechnical properties for foundation design are determined by results from geotechnical investigation programs performed at the site of the foundation. However, the locations for facilities are not known exactly when soil borings are drilled and the footprint of a facility in deepwater can be very large with numerous foundation elements spread out over miles. Therefore, it is not generally feasible to perform a site-specific investigation for every foundation element. The objective of this research is to assess, analyze and model spatial variability in geotechnical properties for offshore foundations. A total of 97 geotechnical investigations from 14 offshore project sites covering the past twenty years of deepwater development in the Gulf of Mexico are compiled into a database. The geologic setting is primarily a normally to slightly overconsolidated marine clay, and the property of interest for the design of deep foundations is the undrained shear strength. The magnitude and characteristics of variability in design undrained shear strengths are analyzed quantitatively and graphically. Geostatistical models that describe spatial variability in the design shear strength properties to the distance away from the available information are developed and calibrated with available information from the database. Finally, a methodology is presented for incorporating the models into a reliability-based design framework to account for spatial variability in foundation capacity. Design examples are presented to demonstrate the use of the reliability methodology. Based on the design undrained shear strength profiles for the past 20 years in this Gulf of Mexico deepwater area, the design undrained shear strength varies spatially but does not depend on the time or method for site investigations. There are nonlinear spatial relationships in the point shear strength laterally and vertically due to stratigraphy such that depth-averaged shear strengths are correlated over further distances than point shear strengths. The depositional forces are an important factor causing spatial variations in the undrained shear strength, with greater variation and less spatial correlation in the more recent hemipelagic deposits (about upper 60 feet) than the deeper turbidite deposits and along the shelf versus off the shelf. The increased conservatism required in deep foundation design due to spatial variability when site specific strength data are not available is generally small with less than a five percent increase required in design capacity in this geologic setting.