Geomechanics and structural geology are important parts of fields such as geothermal energy, oil and gas exploration and production, underground product storage, precious metals exploration, tectonics and mountain building, and geologic hazards such as earthquakes, induced seismicity, and rock-slope stability. They are also key to understanding the geologic and tectonic evolution of other planets and satellites in our Solar System.
My research has spanned a range of areas that include geomechanics of subsurface integrity, underground natural gas storage facilities, growth of fault and fracture networks, and mechanics of deformation and compaction bands in porous granular solids through large deformations. These areas invoke fundamental physics of rock fracture mechanics, lithospheric deformation, and fluid transport that underpin basic and applied studies of green energy exploration and development, seismic hazard assessment in naturally and industrially active areas, ground subsidence above depleting aquifers and petroleum reservoirs, and faulting and magmatic processes on planets such as Mars. The tools used involve appropriate combinations of geologic field characterization, space-borne remote sensing, engineering concepts, and computation using analytical and numerical techniques. The synergies and challenges involved in any one of these areas require and instill an innovative, creative, non-traditional, quantitative, versatile set of capabilities in students who participate in research on my team or in these project areas.
From indexing services:
I am working in the midstream Storage & Transport energy sector within the broad field of subsurface integrity, ensuring the safety and reliability of underground natural gas, fuel, and waste storage facilities (such as CO2) in the US and worldwide. The opportunity space in this area alone is vast and of considerable importance to industry and to society. Primary emphases include:
- Underground Natural Gas Storage — Leakage risk identification and mitigation for facilities in depleted oil and gas fields, depleted aquifers, and salt
- Subsurface Integrity — Risking, barrier definition and implementation
- Probabilistic Hazard Assessment — Incorporating uncertainty using Monte Carlo, Bayesian, and related methods to quantify historical occurrences of subsurface issues
Previous Projects (UT)
While at The University of Texas at Austin (UT) as Senior Research Scientist I applied reservoir geomechanics to contemporary problems in petroleum engineering. Areas worked included:
- FRAC Consortium — Geomechanics of reservoir rocks and their overburdens; industry-funded consortium
- CISR (Center for Integrated Seismicity Research) — Numerical modeling of induced seismicity related to wastewater injection and stimulation of unconventional reservoirs (“fracking”); research consortium funded jointly by industry and State of Texas
Hydraulic stimulation of unconventional petroleum reservoirs depends in part on the type and degree of cementation in the natural fractures
Collaborative research included applications of geomechanics to wastewater injection and induced seismicity, vertical hydrofracture propagation and completions in layered reservoirs, laboratory studies of subcritical crack propagation, and field and theoretical analysis of deformation and compaction bands in porous reservoir analog rocks.
I also instituted a focus on Subsurface Integrity of hydrocarbon fields and underground natural gas storage facilities which included asset integrity, sealing, and leakage risk assessments. This was augmented with TopCorp training of oil and gas regulators from California.
Previous Projects (UNR)
While on the faculty of the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) I taught courses in geological engineering, rock mechanics, and structural geology at as well as graduate classes in planetary geology and geologic fracture mechanics to solve problems in field-based structure and tectonics on the Earth and other planets. Much of my research work on terrestrial and planetary problems was funded by NASA and involved international collaborations and colleagues at institutions such as the Université of Paris and Université Montpellier, France, and the University of Bergen, Norway.
Our research group at UNR was a world leader in applying geologic fracture mechanics to the Moon, Mars, Mercury, and beyond.
Our work at UNR utilized approaches developed in traditionally separate specialties, primarily field geology and engineering fracture mechanics, to attack interrelated problems in rock and crustal mechanics and tectonics on the Earth and other planetary bodies. Our expertise in analyzing the rock mass mechanics, tectonics, and faulting of the Moon, Mercury, Mars, and Venus permitted the extension and modification of geomechanical concepts, developed for a particular set of P-T-x-gravity conditions (Earth), to a broader range of natural geologic experiments in lithospheric structure and planetary evolution. Most of our work was funded by competitive grants from NASA with additional funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, international agencies, and private industry. My former students have gone on to exciting and rewarding careers in private industry and academia.
Geomechanics-Rock Fracture Group (UNR)
While at UNR I led the Geomechanics-Rock Fracture Group. My graduate students, postdocs, and I worked on projects that ranged from petrography and thin-section analysis, to outcrop-scale mapping and analysis of the structural relationships, to regional-scale problems including orogenic belts and fault-fold relationships. We were recognized internationally for using digital elevation models to deduce the geometry and nature of structures at depth, both on the Earth and other planets. Our graduate students have been highly sought after by employers in industry and academia for their intellectual versatility and creative approaches to solving structural and tectonic problems using contemporary methods.
Structural geology and geomechanics can be integrated by applying field, laboratory, and theoretical tools to solve problems of academic and practical interest.
Here the Geomechanics–Rock Fracture Group participated in an international field tutorial in the Grabens of Canyonlands National Park, USA.
Some of our student project and research areas have included:
- Deformation of porous rocks and formation of deformation band arrays
- Growth and significance of compaction bands
- Fracture hydrology
- Growth and displacement-length scaling of fractures, faults and deformation bands
- Fault restriction and the development of linkages and relay-ramps in stratified sedimentary sequences
- Faulting and tectonics on Mars and other planets and satellites in the Solar System
- Structure and tectonic development of Valles Marineris, Mars
- Structural geology of impact craters and deformation at high strain rates
- Planetary slope stability
- Planetary thrust faults and thrust anticlines (wrinkle ridges)
Digital elevation models of Mars have been used extensively to characterize grabens in Tharsis and lobate thrust faults and other structures in the Martian lithosphere.