Subsurface formations with pore fluid pressure in excess of the hydrostatic pressure (geopressure) are encountered worldwide. Although there are a multitude of causes that can result in geopressure, under compaction due to rapid burial of sediments is the predominant cause of geopressure. Typically, if the loading process is rapid, fluid expulsion through compaction is severely retarded, especially in fine-grained sediments with low permeability such as silts or clays. This results in stress redistribution within the column -a greater proportion of the overlying weight of the sediments is borne by the fluids than when the sediments compact normally, causing a decrease in the stress acting on the rock framework. Dehydrating bound water from clays within shales further complicates this phenomenon as compaction proceeds with the depth of burial with increase in temperature.

Geopressured formations pose significant threats to drilling safety, and the cost of mitigation, especially, in deepwater settings, is high…to the tune of $1.08 billion per year world-wide. Proper planning before drilling is key to lowering costs and increasing safety. In this regard, the role of seismic is of paramount importance. Seismic wave attributes (amplitude, velocity, coherency, etc.) are affected when stresses acting on the sedimentary column (effective or differential stress) are low. These attributes can be analyzed to obtain signatures, or lack of fluid transport over the geologic time- both qualitatively and quantitatively. Using the seismic, zones of trapped fluids and pressured compartments can also be mapped prior to drilling. With either an analogue or a reliable low-frequency velocity model, it is also possible to map fluid transport effects in the reservoir scale using seismic inversion techniques.

In this paper, we illustrate how this process works using seismic data at various scales, from the low frequency reflection seismic at exploration frequency scales to those employed at well-logging scales. A rock-model-based approach especially suited for deepwater pore pressure imaging is introduced. It includes the effect of shale burial diagenesis, and uses the velocities derived from inversion of prestack seismic data. The procedure yields details of pre-drill pore pressure images with significant clarity as well as pressure versus depth profiles appropriate for drilling applications. In particular, prestack full waveform inversion yields Poisson's ratios that are useful not only for pressure and fracture gradient estimations but also for lithology and fluid identification. This technique is also applicable to identification of shallow water flow formations that pose drilling hazards in deep water. The procedure is illustrated with examples from several deepwater basins.

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