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Driven pile design in weak rock

Conference Paper · May 2015

DOI: 10.1201/b18442-73


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Jamie Irvine Victor Terente

Cathie Associates Cathie Associates


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Driven pile design in weak rock
J. Irvine, V. Terente, L.T. Lee & R. Comrie
Cathie Associates, Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom

ABSTRACT: There is currently limited guidance regarding the design of large diameter driven piles in weak
rock and/or very hard clays. The onshore industry tends to use drilled and grouted piles, thereby removing the
potential risks associated with the pile capacity and installability of driven piles in weak rock. However, the
offshore industry still prefers to use driven piles due to the time, cost and complexity of large diameter subsea
drilling and grouting operations. There are an increasing number of offshore energy developments in areas
where weak rocks such as Mercia Mudstone are present at shallow depth. Therefore, developing a better under-
standing of the capacity of driven piles in weak rock has the potential to allow significant optimization of pile
design and reduce installation risk and costs in comparison to drilled and grouted piles. The aim of this paper
is to illustrate current design practise, discuss relevant design parameters, testing, investigation requirements
and risks associated with inadequate or misleading geotechnical survey data.

1 INTRODUCTION investigation best suited to their particular site. This

situation often leads to overreliance on a particular
Offshore renewable energy developments are ex- testing technique, overdesign of pile lengths, certifi-
panding in size and are being planned in deeper wa- cation difficulties and pile refusal during construc-
ters and more challenging ground conditions than tion.
their predecessors, with weak rock being anticipated
near seabed on a number of the future UK develop-
ments including Beatrice, Firth of Forth, Triton Knoll 2 DESIGN PROCESS
and the Irish Sea.
There is a great deal of experience in the design The optimal pile design should rely upon developing
and installation of piles in sands and clays and recog- an understanding of rock mass behaviour and the po-
nised design guidelines such as DNV (1992) and API tential risks associated with the design, installation
(2000). However, there is very little guidance for and operation of driven piles in weak rock.
driven pile design in weak rock. The following process is recommended based
Several oil and gas and recent offshore wind de- upon experience designing piles in weak rock:
velopments have installed piles in weak rock includ- 1. Construct a ground model and geotechnical
ing author experience with Lynn & Inner Dowsing, risk register.
Teesside, Gwynt Y Mor and the Narec Offshore Wind 2. Determine the rock mass properties.
Demonstrator projects. 3. Selection of the most appropriate design tech-
The mechanics of driven pile foundations in weak nique and associated parameters.
rocks are poorly understood, particularly when mod- 4. Scope and specify appropriate survey.
elling pile capacities and pile drivability issues. There 5. Determine appropriate design parameters.
are currently significant differences in the design ap- 6. Pile design and drivability assessment.
proaches used to calculate skin friction and end bear- 7. Conduct pile tests and/or pile driving monitor-
ing capacities in weak rock. It is often down to the ing (PDM) to confirm design.
designer to adopt the most appropriate design ap- The following risks should be taken into consider-
proach, determine relevant parameters and plan the ation from the early stages of the project:
 Significant variability of the rock strength. 2002), pile driving creates an annulus of remoulded
 Underestimating of capacity and pile driving material around the pile. Higher density chalk and
resistance resulting in premature pile refusal limestone suffer a complex combination of crushing,
and possible drilling requirements. reduction of porosity and remoulding processes dur-
 Pile damage during installation operations. ing driving. Siliceous calcarenites of low carbonate
content have been modelled for pile capacity follow-
ing cohesive approaches (Thomas J. et al., 2011),
3 WEAK ROCK CHARACTERISATION however, this approach may not be applicable for all
calcarenite sites; very low frictions can develop in
Weak rocks are part of the continuous spectrum of this type of rocks. Method adopted for those rocks
materials between soil and rock. In relation to soils, should be proven with pile load tests. There are also
weak rocks are harder, more brittle, more dilatant and design recommendations for piles in chalk which ac-
heterogeneous. In comparison to other rocks, they are count for the potential crushing and compaction of
softer, less brittle, more compressible and more sus- rock. A careful assessment of rock characteristics
ceptible to weathering. The key characteristics which supported by pile tests should be made to evaluate
can influence the behaviour of weak rocks are consid- probable behaviour during pile installation.
ered to be:
 Uniaxial compressive strength
 Rock mass strength and condition (Geological 4 DRIVEN PILE DESIGN METHODS
strength index (GSI), RQD, Fracture index,
etc) The formulae for calculating the driven pile resistance
 Grain size and mineral composition in rock is given by the expression:
 Moisture content
The strength of weak rock material can vary sig- Qp  Qb  Qs  Wp (1)
nificantly, which can result in difficulties selecting
where Qp = ultimate bearing capacity, Qb = ultimate
appropriate lower and upper bound strength parame-
end bearing resistance; Qs = ultimate shaft resistance;
ters for use in design and driveability assessments.
This disparity can lead to long piles being required for Wp = weight of the pile.
capacity and yet very demanding installation condi-
tions when the pile design relies solely on rock mate- 4.1 End Bearing Resistance
rial strength tests.
The ultimate end bearing resistance, Qb, of a pile is
Weak rocks can be subdivided into three main
shown in Equation (2) below:
types: arenaceous (sandstone), argillaceous (hard
clays, mudstone, siltstone) and calcareous (chalk, Qb  N k  q c  Ab (2)
weak limestones, calcarenites) as discussed by Blyth
and de Freitas (1991). where Nk = bearing resistance factor; qc = uniaxial un-
confined compressive strength; Ab = cross-sectional
area of pile toe.
3.1 Arenaceous (Sandstone) Various bearing resistance factor have been de-
Sandstones can show a wide range of material rived by different authors, as presented in Table 1.
strength, rock mass strength and stiffness. Their
strength is particularly sensitive to moisture content. Table 1. Bearing resistance factors for weak rock
In general, these materials are generally anticipated to Method Bearing Factor Comments
be brittle and de-structure into sand or gravel sized Fleming et al. (1992) ________________________________
3 For weak rock
sandstone fragments during pile driving. 0.3 Rock with open joints
or limited penetration
into rock
3.2 Argillaceous (Mudstone, Siltstone)
Rehnman et al. (1971) 4 to 6 From tests conducted in
Mudstones generally exhibit a low material and mass sandstones, limestones
strength and stiffness and are generally anticipated to and granites
behave as a stiff overconsolidated cohesive material. Rowe and Armitage.
As such, mudstones are anticipated to remould simi- (1987) 2.5 Specific to rock sockets
lar to cohesive soils during pile driving. Tomlinson 2*tan (45+ϕ/2) Rock with widely

& Woodward (2007) spaced joints

Williams et al. (1980) 5 Rock socket piles in
3.3 Calcareous (Chalk, Limestone, Calcarenite) mudstone
These rocks are formed from mineral grains, often of
microscopic sizes, cemented mainly with calcite. In The majority of references recommend a limiting
the case of chalk of low/medium density (CIRIA, end bearing resistance value based upon allowable
displacements rather than ‘yielding’, these values 4.2.2 Cohesive Soil Interface
generally range from 2.5 qc to 5 qc, where normalised For piles in cohesive soils, the ultimate shaft re-
displacements are z/D = 0.05 to 0.1 respectively (z = sistance, Qs, is a function of adhesion factor, α, and
settlement, D = Pile diameter). undrained shear strength su as recommended by API
(2000 & 2007).
4.2 Shaft Resistance Q s    s u  As (4)
The nature of the pile-rock interface along the pile where = adhesion factor; su = undrained shear
shaft is the most significant uncertainty in terms of strength; As = surface area of the pile shaft.
pile design. To calculate the ultimate shaft resistance, The factor α can be related to undrained shear
it is necessary to model the interface steel-rock in one strength, effective overburden pressure and interface
of the following three major categories: roughness. However, the API (2007) main text
 Complete disaggregation of rock at pile wall method has not been verified for high ratios of un-
interface resulting in cohesionless behaviour drained shear strength to overburden pressure, similar
 Complete remoulding of rock at the pile wall to those anticipated for weak rock.
interface resulting in cohesive behaviour
 Limited disturbance at pile wall and contact 4.2.3 Chalk
between pile and excavated rock mass, mod- The most widely accepted current guidance on pile
elled as a drilled socket (including the poten- design in chalk is (CIRIA, 2002) and Carrington et al.
tial for an oversized socket resulting in low (2011) for onshore works.
stresses and low friction) The limiting skin frictions suggested by CIRIA
(2002) ranges from 30kPa to 50kPa for large dis-
4.2.1 Cohesionless Soil Interface placement pre-formed piles in low to medium density
For piles in cohesionless soil, the ultimate shaft re- chalk and up to 120kPa in Grade A (low discontinu-
sistance, Qs, can be calculated by using Equation (3) ity) high density chalk. Carrington et al., (2011) de-
as recommended by API (2000 & 2007). rives limiting skin friction values from the peak post-
Q s  K  p ' 0  tan   As  f l  As (3) cyclic shear strength times an adhesion factor, as
shown in Equation (5):
where K = coefficient of lateral earth pressure; p’0 =
effective overburden pressure; δ = friction angle be-  tan  
f s. lim it     su (5)
tween the soil and pile wall; As = surface area of the  tan  ' 
pile shaft; fl = limiting skin friction.
There is a reasonable amount of research available where δ = steel-chalk interface friction coefficient; φ’
for assessing K, p’0 and δ as detailed in Tomlinson = post peak internal soil friction coefficient (from
and Woodward (2007). However, there are signifi- CSS tests); su = undrained shear strength.
cant uncertainties with regards to appropriate limiting
skin friction values, the following examples were ob- 4.2.4 Rock Socket Interface
tained from literature: There has been a significant amount of research un-
dertaken regarding the pile-rock interface for rock
Table 2. Observed skin friction values in sandstone
___________________________________________________ socket piles as these are commonly utilised for on-
Reference Observation/Limitation shore developments.
API (2000) 115kPa limit for dense gravel
The rock socket roughness and cleanliness are im-
Rodway & Rowe (1980) >250kPa observed (ob.) portant factors in determining the pile-rock adhesion
Beake & Sutcliffe (1980) 170-300kPa ob. (carbonaceous)
___________________________________________________ and have a significant influence on capacity. The lim-
iting skin friction for grouted rock sockets is often
The results show a wide degree of scatter, how- governed by the rock strength as follows:
ever, the limiting values for granular soils recom- Qs    qc  As (6)
mended by API would be conservative in sandstone.
It is generally recognised that the method detailed in where = adhesion factor (0.1 to 0.4) depending
Equation (3) underestimates pile capacity in dense to upon socket roughness as summarised in CIRIA
very dense sands, therefore, the suggested limits may (1999), generally taken as 0.1 for a smooth socket.
not be appropriate. It is also noted that the latest API Studies summarised by Wyllie (2009) indicated
(2007) has removed the recommendations for pile ca- that auger smear (loose drill cuttings / disturbed soils)
pacity in gravel due to the lack of pile load tests. on socket walls could reduce shaft friction by up to
The observations from both the Rodway & Rowe 50% and by up to 75% if there are significant ‘cakes’
(1980) and Beake & Sutcliffe (1980) indicate a skin of bentonite. Auger smear could be considered repre-
friction of 5-10% of the rock UCS. sentative of highly disturbed material due to pile in-
stallation and it is noted that allowing for this reduc- order to single out tests results associated with fail-
tion in Equation (6) above would give an adhesion ures along pre-formed discontinuities and heteroge-
value of 0.05, which is similar to the values observed neities.
in the testing discussed in Section 4.2.1.
6.1.2 In situ testing
In situ testing with pressuremeters provides reliable
5 DESIGN PARAMETERS SELECTION in situ measurements in addition to CPT testing in ex-
tremely weak rock when specified correctly (Clarke
The design parameters should be based upon devel- and Smith, 1992) and should be factored in the initial
oping an understanding of the rock mass behaviour planning of the investigations despite of their higher
(Hoek et al.,2005). Authors’ analysis of several pile costs.
installations in mudstone and sandstone indicate that Indirect geophysical methods such as P-S logging
rock mass properties measured in-situ provide a much to obtain P and S wave velocities for stiffness meas-
closer correlation with the actual pile capacity and urements and optical or acoustic televiewer methods
drivability than the estimates based upon the intact for fracture logging can provide additional design in-
rock properties derived from laboratory testing. formation on the rock masses fracture and deforma-
Geotechnical survey operations have to be appro- bility condition.
priately scoped and specified to obtain sufficient data
to provide rock mass strength information, as a mini- 6.1.3 Laboratory Testing of Intact Rock Samples
mum it should include: Moisture content should be tested immediately after
 Appropriate rock logging procedures, for ex- extrusion of rock coring offshore. Results can later be
ample Geological Strength Index (GSI) compared with moisture results of UCS and UU sam-
 High quality samples of both weathered and ples completed onshore to measure sample degrada-
intact rock to facilitate laboratory testing tion and the effect of moisture content and associated
 In situ testing such as pressuremeter and/or changes in strength (Hawkins and McConnell, 1992).
downhole geophysics such as P-S logging The testing strategy and choice of strength testing
Due to the current uncertainties regarding pile de- including uniaxial compressive strength (UCS), point
sign methods, it is therefore recommended that trial load testing (PL), unconfined undrained tests (UU)
piles and static load testing are considered. Dynamic or consolidated anisotropic undrained tests (CAU)
Pile Driving Monitoring (PDM) should also be under- should be varied and chosen on the basis of the
taken during installation operations to confirm as- strength range, rock type, rock mass quality and po-
built pile capacity. tential effects of heterogeneities and discontinuities in
the final test results. UCS tests could underestimate
the strength of rock material due to the presence of
6 PLANNING THE GEOTECHNICAL SURVEY discontinuities and anisotropies within the rock sam-
ple, particularly when testing large diameter speci-
The depth to bedrock, weathering profile and ex- mens Hoek and Brown (1997). Over-reliance on UCS
pected rock mass strength range of a site (the ground tests in weak rock is usually associated with an un-
model) should be estimated at an early stage in order derestimation of rock mass strength. Rode (1990)
to design the sampling and testing regime required. completed an extensive study of UCS test results,
which proved that the variability of results increases
6.1.1 High quality sampling significantly with decreasing rock material strength.
The recovery of good quality samples for weak rocks In addition, Wu (1993) reported the significant effects
with the use of triple core barrel systems is clearly of consolidation pressure in the results of Mohr Cou-
recognized in ISO 22475-1:2006 and BS EN ISO lomb parameters derived from triaxial tests in mud-
14689-1:2003. Minimization of drilling induced frac- stones.
tures and high total core recovery (TCR) are key in- Point load testing (PL), can be completed on frag-
dicators of the success of drilling operations. Recov- ments of core allowing completion of numerous tests
ery is generally maximized with the use of sensitive in a single core run. Specific PL correlation values for
triple core barrel drilling methods such as Geobore S different rock types such as chalk have been sug-
systems, characterized by a high ratio of core diame- gested by different authors (Bowden et al, 1998),
ter over drill bit thickness, which reduces core dis- however, PL should be correlated with adjacent UCS
turbance. tests in order to define suitable site specific correla-
Representative core sections (avoiding over-sam- tion factors (ISRM, 1981). The effect of bedding ani-
pling of stronger layers) should be identified during sotropy in sedimentary rocks is well documented
logging and preserved rapidly in waxed samples to (Wu, 1993) and should be taking into consideration
maintain their moisture. Minor fractures and hetero- when analysing test results to derive characteristic de-
geneities in the samples should be logged in detail in sign values.
6.1.4 Rock mass testing 7 DESIGN EXPERIENCE
Rock mass testing methods aimed to obtain infor-
mation on rock mass behaviour are completed off- The authors have design experience at several weak
shore. rock sites. An example of driven pile design in mud-
Pressuremeter and dilatometer testing in weak stone is briefly discussed below.
rock can be very useful when benchmarking rock The Mercia Mudstone at this chosen location was
mass properties such as shear stiffness (relevant for described as extremely weak to weak with strength
the upper sections of rock in monopile design) or rock values ranging from 0.4-7MPa. The UCS testing gen-
mass compressive strength or equivalent su. Specific erally indicated much lower strengths values ranging
considerations to the particular behaviour of weak from 0.4-0.8MPa, with other types of testing exhibit-
rock such as stress history (Stevenson et al., 1990) ing a much larger degree of scatter, and in situ testing
and tensile fracturing (Johnson & Haberfield, 1990) (HPD) generally showing a much higher average
must be considered during the interpretation of the re- strength.
sults. The rock strength profile adopted was significantly
A summary of rock material and rock mass influenced by the UCS and lower bound point load
strength tests required for design characterisation are tests, resulting in a requirement for significant pene-
presented below: tration (>20m) into the mudstone layer.
During installation operations the piles refused
Table 3. Rock material properties and tests some distance short of the target depth and the capac-
Rock Material Properties ity was confirmed from a back analysis of the availa-
Test Type UCS su  c  r E  P0 K ble data and the available PDM results.
Logging * * 
UCS  *   
PL * *   
UU *    
Triaxial  *    
Oedometer       
Shear box     
CSS      
* Indirect measurement/estimate
 Direct Measurement

where UCS is uniaxial compressive strength, PL

Point load, UU Undrained Unconsolidated , CSS cy-
clic simple shear, su undrained shear strength, ϕ fric-
tion angle, r residual friction angle, poissons ra-
tioc cohesion, E young’s modulus, P0 pre-
consolidation pressure, K permeability, δ steel-rock
friction angle, Ko coefficient of horizontal earth pres-
sure at rest, ϕ’m drained friction angle (rock mass), c’m
drained cohesion (rock mass), Em elastic modulus of
the rock mass, Gm shear modulus of the rock mass, Fi
Fracture index and Fo discontinuity orientation, RQD
rock quality designation.
Figure 1. Shaft frictions from design example.
Table 4. Rock mass properties and tests
Rock Mass Properties
The initial shaft friction design values (prepared
K0 'm c'm Em Gm Fi Fo RQD previous to early pile refusal) were based on best es-
Logging         timate material strength profiles from UCS test re-
GSI  * * * *   sults. Less conservative simplistic strength profiles
HPD        were subsequently developed from the GSI logging
P-S log    * *   and HPD testing. The GSI strength profiles were es-
Acous- timated based on the rock mass failure criteria recom-
tic        mended by Hoek et al (2005), which allows the deri-
vation of a rock mass UCS value. These new rock
strength profiles were then used to estimate pile shaft
Where GSI is Geological Strength Index logging, friction and end bearing capacity using the methods
HPD high pressure dilatometer, P-S log is a downhole for mudstone discussed above to attempt to match the
method for the measurement of shear wave velocity back analysed shaft friction results obtained from
and acoustic viewer is a downhole imaging tool capa- PDM testing (Figure 1).
ble of logging discontinuities.
Based on this back analysis, strength profiles Carrington, T.M, Li, G. & Rattley, M.J. 2011. A new assessment
based on UCS test result alone, significantly underes- of ultimate unit friction for driven piles. Proc. of the 15th
European Conf. on Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Engi-
timate the pile shaft friction, and HPD derived neering, pp. 825-830.
strength profile gave the closest match with the back CIRIA. 1999. Report 181 - Piled foundations in weak rock. Lon-
analysed PDM results, however, still tended to under- don.
estimate shaft friction. The GSI profile gave an esti- CIRIA. 2002. C574 Engineering in chalk. London.
mate that lay between the UCS and HPD results. Clarke B. and Smith A, 1992. Self boring pressuremeter in weak
DNV. 1992. Classification Notes No. 30.4, Foundations. Det
Norske Veritas.
8 CONCLUSION & RECOMMENDATIONS Fleming, W.G.K., Weltman, A.J., Randolph, M.F. & Elson,
W.K. (2nd Ed.) 1992. Piling Engineering. Glasgow and Lon-
The piles for several operational offshore structures don: A & P Blackie.
founded in weak rock have been demonstrated to Hawkins, A. and McConnell, B. 1992. Sensitivity of sandstone
strength and deformability to changes in moisture content.
have acceptable axial capacity indicating that the cur- Q. J. Engineering. Geology., 62, 115-130.
rent design methods are sufficiently conservative for Hoek E. and Brown E. 1997. Practical estimates of rock mass
use. strength. International Journal of Rock Mechanics and Min-
However, to assess pile capacity and pile drivabil- ing Science, Vol 34, No. 8, 1997, 1165-1186
ity, it is vital to prepare a good ground model, a tai- Hoek E. Marinos V. & Marinos , 2005. The geological strength
lored design approach and to define an investigation index: applications and limitations. Bull. Eng. Geol Environ
methodology which provides accurate rock material International Society for Rock Mechanics (ISRM), 1981,Rock
and rock mass strength profiles. The authors experi- Characterization, ‘Testing and Monitoring, ISRM Suggested
ence with three sites investigated to date is that rock Methods’, Brown, E. T. (Editor). Pergamon Press, Oxford.
mass parameters obtained in situ provide a better fit ISO 22475-1:2006. Geotechnical investigation and testing –
to as-built behaviour than designs based on testing Sampling methods and groundwater measurements – Part 1:
technical principles for execution’.
‘intact’ or ‘material’ rock properties alone, however, Johnson I. and Haberfield C. 1990. Pressuremeter interpretation
additional information and more case studies are re- in weak rock. Geological Society, London, Engineering Ge-
quired to confirm this. ology Special Publications V6: p85-90.
An appropriate variety of testing techniques Rehnman, S.E. & Broms, B.B. 1971. Bearing capacity of piles
should be considered to allow rock mass properties to driven in rock. Canadian Geotechnical Journal, Vol. 8 (2),
be characterised with accuracy. In addition, the incor- pp. 151-162.
Rode J. and Feng H. 1990. Analysis of the variability of uncon-
poration of pile testing programs including PDM and fined compression tests on rock. Rock Mechanics and Rock
where possible, on shore trials in similar rock condi- Engineering, 23.
tions is strongly recommended. Rodway R.L. and Rowe R.K.1980. The uplift Capacity of Steel
There are currently several offshore developments Piles Driven into Hawksebury Sandstone. Proceedings of
underway installing piles in weak rock, and several 3rd Australian and New Zealand Conference on Geome-
chanics, pp. 109-114.
onshore pile testing programs are also planned. A de- Rowe, R.K. & Armitage, H.H. 1987. A design method for drilled
tailed review of the information obtained from these piers in soft rock. Canadian Geotechnical Journal, Vol. 24,
programs would go a long way towards confirming pp. 126-142.
and refining the design methods for varying rock Stevenson M., Martin J. and Squire P. 1990. Some recent in situ
types. stress testing experience with strong clays and weak rocks in
Britain. Geological Society, London, Engineering Geology
Special Publications V6 : p67-75.
Thomas J. et al. 2011. Behaviour of driven tubular steel piles in
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