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Natural Hazards of High Subsurface Fluid Pressures

High-fluid pressures are a well-known risk for subsurface operations. Uncontrolled release of fluids causes severe damage to the environment and to infrastructure and in extreme cases has cost lives. Release of high-pressure fluids from the subsurface also occurs naturally, sometimes as explosive mud volcanoes, but more commonly as slow, steady seepage. Fluid expulsion leaves an unique subsurface record that are easily detected and recognized both in outcrop and on seismic data. Expulsion features are numerous along the continental margins and are often found in association with large gravitational collapse structures. At the seafloor, vigorous bubbling can be observed and unique chemosynthetic communities have settled around the seep locations. Onshore, explosive mud eruptions and mud flows flooding large areas have occurred.

The natural release of gas and fluids at the surface, and especially the periodically catastrophic outbursts, has attracted much scientific curiosity. Causal relationships with other catastrophic events have been, and are still, widely suggested, such as large-scale gravitational collapse, climate changes due to wide-spread expulsion of greenhouse gasses, oxygen deficiency in seas and lakes with possible catastrophic lake overturns, loss of buoyancy for ships, pollution, large mud floods, and many more.

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Pieter van Rensbergen Research Seismo Stratigrapher, Shell International Exploration and Production.


Pieter Van Rensbergen joined Shell International Exploration and Production B.V. in Rijswijk (Netherlands) as a research geologist in 2006. He also holds an appointment as guest professor at the University of Ghent (Belgium). He received a Ph.D. in marine geology from the University of Ghent in 1996. Before joining Shell, he was a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Brunei and then at the University of Ghent for the National Fund of Scientific Research. Since Dr. Van Rensbergen’s tenure in Brunei , he has been studying subsurface sediment deformation and fluid flow, followed by his work in Ghent on the surface processes related to fluid venting and its impact on the environment. Since he joined Shell, he has had the opportunity to continue in this area of research and combine it with a passion for the geological interpretation of seismic data.