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Reducing geomechanical risks to increase project safety and efficiency

Many types of industrial activities such as mining, civil engineering and Oil and gas production among others, require geotechnical analysis before and during the development of the exploitation. In this context, any human made underground activity carries a risk that must be controlled.

One of the possible risks of these activities is the reactivation of faults located near the exploitation area. This is the reason why there has recently been a growing interest to understand under what conditions these events may occur and to try to avoid them or minimize their effects.

These reactivations may lead to seismic activity generating earthquakes the magnitude of which depends on the area of the fault plane affected, the fault offset, the speed of the movement and the depth of the faults involved in the process.

All these factors may influence the amount of energy released. Seismic events stimulated by human activities occur relatively often and depending on their magnitude may cause major problems by either damaging structures and generating delays in the development of projects or causing environmental damage or effects on the daily activity of the population living near the affected area.

Recently, a new methodology has been proposed in order to contribute to a better understanding of the geomechanical processes that take place during fault reactivation events, either when they occur naturally or are induced by human activity.

This methodology is based on identifying the fault reactivation event as an instability and allows us to quantify the energy released during the unstable process. Moreover, it is developed in the context of Geomechanics and involves concepts of Fracture Mechanics, Visco-plasticity, zero-thickness interface elements, energy and work, numerical methods such as Finite Element Method and hydro-mechanical coupling.

Additionally, innovative tools have already been developed in order to increase the knowledge of the real soil behavior and to minimize the risks associated to any geotechnical project. These tools are based on parametric sensitivity analysis combined with real time backanalysis which, nowadays, are available on DAARWIN platform.

The methodology proposed by DAARWIN leads to an improvement in geotechnical analysis which increases efficiency and makes projects more sustainable and safer. By combining both methodologies, the uncertainties associated to fault reactivation phenomena could be reduced. Thus, DAARWIN technology seems to be the way forward. Irene Jaqués PhD. Geotechnical Engineer

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