Forensic Investigations and Subject Matter Expert Services

Over the past 35 years, Dr. Oswell has undertaken numerous investigations to evaluate the probable causes of “lack of performance” events and failures. These investigations have included assessment of residential damage as the result of soil settlement, frost heave in the fatal rupture and explosion of a natural gas service line, movement of deep excavation shoring systems, pipe­line buckles and loss of containment due to geological hazards interaction, slope movements, building foundations including slabs-on-grade and piles, thaw settlement issues and others. Other investigations include the effects of landslides on pipeline ruptures in Colombia and Ecuador. He has served as an expert to legal counsel in litigation for an excavation shoring movement, slope stability issues and compaction performance of a highway embankment, subject matter expert to a regulatory licensing board, and an expert witness to numerous regulatory hearing processes and legal proceedings.

Dr. Oswell is presently chair of an Independent Technical Review Panel providing expert review and recommendations for the design, construction and operations of a winter road and all-season road to a mine site in sensitive permafrost terrain and a National Park.

Specific project experiences is provided below:

Compaction Performance of Highway Embankment Litigation: Expert witness to consider the performance of a highway embankment constructed of imported fine-grained soils and the adequacy of the geotechnical investigation and subsequent compaction testing during construction.

Slope Stability Assessment for Residential Development: Expert witness retained to consider the strength of soils for be used in a slope stability assessment for the support of a residential development near the crest of a steep river valley.

Insulated Hot Oil Pipeline Distress Litigation: Expert witness to legal proceedings concerning the deterioration of insulation on a hot-oil production pipeline in northeast Alberta. Provided soil-pipeline interaction parameters and an assessment of potential geotechnical related factors that contributed to the lack of performance and deterioration of the insulation and coating system. Provided direct and cross-examination testimony in court.

Fibreglass Flowline Distress Litigation: Expert geotechnical engineer witness to legal proceedings related to the distress in small diameter oil well flowlines. Issues involved construction and operation of the fibreglass flow lines at a site in southern Manitoba.

Performance of Right-of-Way in Permafrost Terrain: Specialist permafrost engineer assisting Prime Contractor and legal counsel in assessing terrain issues related to the construction of a communications cable through permafrost terrain. Construction methods, erosion control needs, and mitigation strategies were reviewed and/or considered.

Cold Lake Pipeline Litigation: Senior geotechnical engineer providing expert witness testimony concerning distress of a hot-product pipeline.

Retaining Wall and Slope Instability Litigation, Red Deer Alberta: Expert witness retained by defendants to consider root causes for ground distress in a developed backyard in Red Deer Alberta.  Issues considered included internal versus global stability of a multi-tier retaining wall system and potential for general slope instability of the adjacent escarpment slope, which encompasses the property.

Residential Building Distress, Calgary: Senior geotechnical engineer retained to investigate the causes of structural and cosmetic distress in a residential building in northwest Calgary.  The investigation included review of documentation, site inspections and installation of a slope indicator to assess the stability of a approximately 9 m high retaining wall along the property line.  The investigation determined that the most likely cause of the distress was due to the  long-term self-weight settlement of fill placed in the back portions of the property on which the building foundations were placed.

EcoPetrol, Colombia: Senior geotechnical engineer and member of international multi-disciplinary team examining the root causes of two pipeline ruptures in mountainous regions of Columbia. In case, the rupture resulted in an explosion with over 30 fatalities.  Services included site reconnaissance, preparation of a preliminary assessment report, development of scope of work and specifications for geotechnical investigations and instrumentation, supervision of the geotechnical program and assessment of data, and reporting.

Northwest Energy Explosion, Montana: Expert witness to assess the potential impact that frost heave may have played in the rupture, leakage and subsequent fatal explosion of a natural gas service line.  Duties included examination of documents, expert witness reports, geotechnical data and completed evaluation of frost heave potential considering soil characteristics, geothermal conditions and other contributing factors.

Oleoductos de Crudos Pesados (OCP) Pipeline, Ecuador: Senior geotechnical engineer and member of multi-disciplinary team evaluating the factors and causes of a pipeline rupture in 2009.  Tasks included site reconnaissance, review of geological information and in situ instrumentation, development of soil parameters for numerical modelling of the pipeline and preparation of technical reports outlining geotechnical factors that contributed to the rupture.

Ground Erosion and Property Damage, Penticton, BC: Expert witness to assess the causes for property damage related to a major rain event that induced surface erosion and soil sedimentation of properties downslope of an orchard property.  Work included review of site and construction documentation, review and assessment of proposed/recommended erosion control measures and development of an expert opinion regarding the causes and mitigation measures to prevent property damage.

Pipeline Wrinkles, Norman Wells Pipeline, NT: Lead permafrost engineer to investigate the causes of the development of wrinkles at several locations on the Norman Wells crude oil pipeline in the Northwest Territories. Team included pipeline engineers, experts in pipeline-soil interaction modelling, pipeline operations staff.  Prepared geotechnical evaluation report that was filed with the Federal regulatory agency with jurisdiction over the pipeline operations.

Slope Stability Studies, Norman Wells Pipeline, NT: Lead geotechnical engineer to evaluate the stability of slopes along the pipeline route and adjacent to the right-of-way.  Evaluated movement data, provided recommendations for monitoring and mitigation measures, and prepared evaluation and inspection reports to be filed with the National Energy Board.  Acted as a subject matter expert in annual review meetings between the pipeline operator and regulatory agencies and stakeholder groups.

Inuvik Female Young Offenders Facility:  Permafrost engineer and review expert as part of several teams to evaluate the causes for slab-on-grade movements of a structure constructed on permafrost.  Evaluated geotechnical conditions at the site and performance of the buried cooling system, consisting of thermosyphons.

Dawson City Arena: Subject matter expert in an arbitration process between the contractor and facility owners regarding the performance of an ice rink slab-on-grade.  Reviewed geotechnical information and thermosyphon performance. Participated as an expert witness to provide sworn testimony on the issues regarding the lack of performance of the foundation cooling system and construction activities.

Canadian Coast Guard/Dept of Fisheries and Oceans Base, Hay River, NT: Undertook several evaluations of permafrost degradation that were impacting building foundations and slabs-on-grade at a site constructed on ice-rich permafrost.  Conducted inspections of foundation systems and evaluated monitoring data to assess timelines for movement and provided mitigation options.

Residential Gas Explosion, Calgary AB: Expert witness retained by legal council to provide input regarding the frost conditions and potential influence of cold temperatures that may have contributed the breakage of a natural gas residential service.  The service line had severed near the wall of the residence with gas leaking into the structure and exploding.

Gulf Canada Resources Limited, Tuktoyuktuk , NT: Completed a forensic evaluation of apparent foundation movements at a large industrial housing complex constructed on permafrost.  Conducted a site inspection and interviewed staff to determine the cause of the apparent foundation movements.  Contrary to initial reports, the inspections and analysis concluded the issues were related to ground subsidence not foundation heave.

Bankers Hall Shoring Movement, Calgary: Provided geotechnical input and support to defence counsel regarding a $23 million lawsuit concerning a movement of a shoring wall for a 15 m deep excavation.  Reviewed all geotechnical information including expert testimony by defence and plaintiff experts, and assisted defence lawyers in preparation of witnesses and defence strategy.  Outcome was the successful defence at trial and appeal.