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The State of Stress as Inferred from Deviated Boreholes: Constraints on the Tectonics of Offshore Central California and Cook Inlet, Alaska


Zajac, Blair J. (1998) The State of Stress as Inferred from Deviated Boreholes: Constraints on the Tectonics of Offshore Central California and Cook Inlet, Alaska. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/S3V0-3M43.


This thesis introduces a new method of constraining the vector directions of the three principal stresses and their relative magnitudes, by using borehole breakouts in non-vertical drill holes. Unlike older stress state measurements from breakouts, this work does not presume that one of the principal stresses is Vertical. This method has important uses in complicated three-dimensional structures, such as in the Los Angeles basin, and in oil drilling applications.

Chapter 1 discusses why knowledge of the three-dimensional stress tensor is relevant to today's science and examines the applications of the stress state determination technique discussed herein. The history of previous work is also described.

In Chapter 2 I discuss the techniques of determining the stress tensor from borehole breakouts, examining the physics of borehole breakouts, the theory of the inversion technique used, and data processing issues. The theory and data processing issues are not discussed separately in this work, since data processing issues often prompted new theoretical techniques. I first examine the physics of borehole breakouts and how the orientation of breakouts on the borehole wall relates to the local stress field. A new borehole breakout selection scheme which takes into account highly non-vertical boreholes is then presented along with a discussion of the real world problems of data gathering, identification, and processing. Having selected a borehole breakout data set using the criteria, I invert for the best fitting stress state using a new technique combining genetic algorithms and non- differential function optimizers. Finally, I present a way in which 95% confidence limits can be placed on the resulting stress tensor.

With all of the technical and theoretical pieces in place, I now examine several different data sets. Chapter 3 examines a borehole breakout data set publish by Qian and Pedersen [1991] from the Siljan Deep Drilling Project in Sweden and demonstrates that even for simple borehole breakout data sets, the stress state inversions assuming a vertical principal stress direction may fall outside of the 95% confidence limits of an inversion allowing non-vertical principal stress directions. My technique of displaying the borehole breakout data makes the data quality more obvious as compared to the way Qian and Pedersen [1991] plotted the data.

Chapter 4 examines a borehole breakout data set from the offshore Santa Maria Basin, California. This analysis presents vertical borehole breakout data that represent a maximum horizontal principal stress direction of N7°E, roughly consistent with other earthquake focal mechanism, GPS, and borehole breakout studies in the area. However, the stress state inversion of breakouts identified in the vertical and a limited number of nearly horizontal boreholes suggests a stress state very different from any other stress state results. This could imply that the three dimensional stress in the Santa Maria Basin is very complicated. However, given the limited amount of borehole breakouts identified in nearly horizontal wells, the stress state results from this data set are inconclusive.

Chapter 5 examines the largest data set used in this study, from a series of oil wells in Cook Inlet, Alaska. These are borehole caliper arm data from 21 different wells reaching a maximum deviation of 54° and 3,223 m true vertical depth. Stress state inversions of 31 different subsets of the borehole breakout data were performed. Inversion of breakouts identified in the top two of three marker beds analyzed in wells drilled from the Baker platform identified nearly degenerate thrust faulting stress states with the maximum principal stress axis, S_1, oriented horizontally WNWESE, perpendicular to the NNE-trending anticlinal structures. The stress state from the deepest marker is also a nearly degenerate thrust faulting stress state with S_1 oriented NNW—SSE, aligned with the regional direction of relative plate motion between the North American and Pacific plates. In between the shallow and deep stress state is an apparent normal faulting stress state with S_2 oriented subhorizontally ENE—WSW. This clockwise rotation of the stress tensor as a function of depth suggests that the stress field changes with depth, from a shallow stress state responsible for the local NNE-trending structures to a deeper one from the North American and Pacific plates' collision zone. The observed normal faulting stress state between the two thrust faulting stress states is anomalous and may represent some sort of transition from the shallow to the deep stress state. Stress state profiles in 500 m true vertical depth (TVD) intervals show consistently oriented thrust faulting stress regimes with NNW—SSE trending S_1 azimuths. The thrust faulting S_3 principal stress direction is consistently within 30° of vertical, suggesting that while the assumption of a purely vertical principal stress direction is not valid, the stress tensor does not significantly rotate away from the surface conditions that require a purely vertical stress tensor. The nearly degenerate thrust faulting stress states determined from the Granite Point and the 10.8 km distant Baker platform breakouts are nearly identical, implying that the technique of using deviated borehole breakouts to invert for the regional stress is valid. The orientations of the maximum horizontal stress determined from the Cook Inlet borehole breakouts are consistent with other stress indicators in south-central Alaska and consistent with the direction of relative plate motion between the North American Plate and the Pacific plate. The S_1 axis for the Cook Inlet field trends due south plunging 3°. The 95% confidence limits allow the S_1 azimuth to vary from N156°E to N195°E and the plunge to vary from 10° to -4°. This stress state does not appear representative of the stress field for each subset of breakouts. The Granite Point S1 axis trends N19°W plunging 3°; the 95% confidence limits allow the azimuth to vary from N42°W to N7°E and the plunge to vary from 1° to 6°. The Baker platform S_1 axis trends N170°E plunging 8°; the 95% confidence limits on S_1 allow its azimuth to vary from N139°E to N191°E and its plunge to vary from 1° to 15°. Finally, the Dillon platform S_1 axis trends N69°W plunging 2°; the 95% confidence limits constrain the S_1 azimuth from N268°E to N324°E and the plunge from 8° to -4°. The more westerly orientation of S_1 at the Dillon platform may be related to the local NNE-trending anticlinal structures in the Cook Inlet Basin.

Chapter 6 concludes and summarized the results and conclusions from the thesis.

The first appendix contains in minute detail some of the mathematics describing the boreholes, breakouts, and coordinate system rotations used to perform this work. The second appendix contains the individual discussion and plots of the raw dipmeter data from all of the Cook Inlet, Alaska wells.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:stress, boreholes, tectonics, Cook Inlet, central California
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Geological and Planetary Sciences
Major Option:Geophysics
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Stock, Joann M. (advisor)
  • Ahrens, Thomas J.
Thesis Committee:
  • Ahrens, Thomas J. (chair)
  • Clayton, Robert W.
  • Gurnis, Michael C.
  • Saleeby, Jason B.
  • Stock, Joann M.
Defense Date:13 May 1997
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:06072010-160325894
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:5932
Deposited On:08 Jun 2010 21:22
Last Modified:12 Nov 2021 20:13

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