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SPE 146125

Ensuring the Integrity of Subsea Hot Tap Welded Joints in Lieu of Hydro
Testing
Alan Smith, Det Norske Veritas; Robbie Williamson, Det Norske Veritas; Andrew Low, Intecsea
Copyright 2011, Society of Petroleum Engineers
This paper was prepared for presentation at the SPE Offshore Europe Oil and Gas Conference and Exhibition held in Aberdeen, UK, 68 September 2011.
This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE program committee following review of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents of the paper have not been
reviewed by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and are subject to correction by the author(s). The material does not necessarily reflect any position of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, its
officers, or members. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper without the written consent of the Society of Petroleum Engineers is prohibited. Permission to
reproduce in print is restricted to an abstract of not more than 300 words; illustrations may not be copied. The abstract must contain conspicuous acknowledgment of SPE copyright.

Abstract
Hot tapping of subsea pipelines is a cost effective method of transporting production fluids from satellite wells into existing
pipelines. The process involves welding a branch connection onto a flowing operational pipeline and trepanning a coupon
from the outside of the mother pipe. The technique is now well established and can minimise production down time. In most
cases, the integrity of the branch weld is proven via subsequent pressure testing to prescribed limits based upon a multiple of
the anticipated design pressure. However, in exceptional cases, such strength testing may not be possible. If this is the case it
may be necessary to ensure the integrity of the welded joint by non destructive testing. This paper examines the use of non
destructive testing and specifies the issues which need to be considered and the process involved in qualifying a Hot-tap weld.
The use of NDT is justified by reference to the fracture toughness of the weld and associated microstructure and is based on a
fracture mechanics argument. The paper draws on experience gained in the practical application of this methodology offshore.
Keywords: Hot-Tap, Engineering Critical Assessment, Non Destructive testing.

SPE 146125

Introduction
The construction of a subsea Hot-tap involves welding a teepiece directly onto an existing, in-service pipeline (the
Mother pipe) and then trepanning a circular coupon out of the mother pipe whilst being exposed to full operational
pressure. Quite often construction in shallow water conditions, will involve the use of a Habitat and divers capable of
carrying out the required welding operations. Typically the Mother pipeline is highly utilised, in terms of strength
capacity, and welding activities can represent a major safety risk to the divers undertaking the welding operations. In this
case it is imperative that the welding procedures be reviewed in detail in terms of pre and post heat requirements
specifically related to the potential for yielding of the Mother pipeline. In order to provide confidence that the respective
Hot-Tap welding operations will not compromise the integrity of the mother pipeline a thorough review the following
documentation, calibrated against the pipeline design code, is required supported by carrying out independent verification
calculations which include a review of the following:

Design philosophy
Design process
Specifications for design
Design reports and drawings
Specifications for construction and operation, resulting from design
Detailed Installation procedures

Design verification requires that the integrity of the entire hot tapping process. This involves ensuring that the mother pipe
does not yield by gross deformation during the preheat and that burn through cannot take place. In turn these failure
mechanisms are influenced by the cooling rate which is dependent on flow conditions within the mother pipe. Modelling
these conditions requires care, skill and a good understanding of the engineering and material issues involved.
It is often not feasible to strength test the Hot-Tap welded joint to the same pressure as would be required during the
construction of a new build pipeline. One of the principle objectives of such a strength test would be to help demonstrate
the integrity of the weld. Where strength testing is not able to be performed on a particular weld, the weld in question is
referred to as a Golden weld. Thus some other method must be found to demonstrate the integrity of a Golden Weld.
This paper discusses various ways of achieving this using a combination of fracture mechanics and non destructive
testing. Reference is made to a typical project that will illustrate some of the issues involved.
A typical Hot-tap between a duplex stainless steel pup piece and carbon steel mother pipe consists of applying a buttering
layer (typically Inconnel 625), welding the pup piece onto the buttering layer using an Inconnel filler material and then
trepanning a circular coupon from the pipe wall of the Mother Pipe. A typical design is shown in Figure 1.

SPE 145125

Fig 1 Typical hot clamp design (Source: INTECSEA)


It is technically possible to pressurise the pup piece before trepanning the Circular coupon out of the mother pipe.
However, whilst this is helpful in demonstrating the integrity of any flange welds or welds in the Hot-tap / Mother Pipe
interface, care has to be taken to avoid over pressurising the pup piece as this could lead to distortion or collapse of the
local Mother pipe wall section. This has the practical effect of limiting the maximum value of the test pressure. As a result
of this reduced test pressure, coupled with the actual geometry of the Hot-tap weld to the buttering layer, the stress
distribution achieved within the weld, will not be representative to the stress distribution following removal. Thus testing
at this intermediate stage provides little evidence that the Hot-tap weld itself has sufficient integrity. Therefore to
demonstrate the integrity of the golden weld a fracture mechanics argument should be used. This argument is based upon
the following steps:

Postulating the position of hypothetical flaws in the golden weld and associated buttering layers.

Determining the stress distribution in the golden weld at the maximum operating pressure with worst case
environmental loading.

Measuring the fracture toughness relevant to the various hypothetical flaws and operational service conditions.

Assessing the critical flaw dimensions for the hypothetical flaws using BS7910.

Estimating the reliability and accuracy with which NDT can detect the flaws (if present)

It is emphasised that this argument can only be used where it is not feasible to strength test.

SPE 146125

Position and morphology of hypothetical weld defects


Figure 2 shows the typical microstructure for a hot tap weld between a carbon steel mother pipe and a Duplex pup piece.
The following defects are considered plausible:

Lamellar type flaws in the Mother pipe

Planar flaws at the interface of the Inconnel buttering layer and the Mother pipe

Lack of root fusion

Lack of sidewall fusion between pup piece and weld and embedded flaws in the weld

Surface breaking flaws on the outer surface of the hot tap weld

Figure 2 Typical weld configuration showing weld and buttering layer (Source: INTECSEA)

The Stress Distribution at a Hot Tap

The stress distribution at a Hot-tap I can be very complex and require careful and accurate modelling. Typical stress
distributions are shown in Figs 3 and 4. Under normal circumstances the highest (tensile) stresses can be found at or close to
the crown position and include a high degree of bending to enable continuity between the mother pipe and pup piece to be
maintained. For the purposes of fracture mechanics assessment of flaws at the buttering layer and within the weld, the stress
profile is required perpendicular to the mother pipe at the crown position. This is often linearised into bending stress and
membrane stress components (Fig 3 and 4). It should be noted that for both stress distributions, the stress in the root region of
the weld can be compressive which will result in significantly lower crack driving forces.

SPE 145125

Figure 3 Stress Distribution for Stresses Perpendicular to the Hot Tap Weld at Buttering Layer (courtesy of Intecsea) (stress
distribution through thickness along path shown in adjacent figure)

Figure 4 Stress Distribution for Stresses Perpendicular to Weld at Toe of Weld to Pup Piece (stress distribution through
thickness along path shown in adjacent figure)

SPE 146125

Measuring the Fracture Toughness


In order to determine the critical flaw size, it is necessary to quantify the fracture resistance of the adjacent material. This is
done using fracture toughness testing. The fracture toughness normally requires measurement of the toughness of the weld
metal, heat affected zone and parent plate. For this case, measurement of the HAZ and mother pipe is particularly difficult.
This is because the type of flaws deemed plausible are aligned parallel to the surface. This is often a zone of low toughness
particularly for low quality steels. Moreover, it is also necessary to test with the crack plane parallel to the mother pipe surface,
a direction not normally tested. To do this involves extending the fracture toughness test specimens. This can be achieved
using electron beam welded (EBW) extension arms, being careful not to metallurgically affect the zone around the crack tip of
the test specimen. Tests should be cared out at the minimum design temperature.
Similarly tensile testing should be carried out with the specimens orientated perpendicularly to the plane of any postulated
defects. It is advised that representative weld trial specimens are used to obtain fracture toughness specimens. The specimens
should use similar material and procedures to those of the actual weld metal.

Calculating the critical flaw dimensions


The critical flaw dimensions for flaws in the locations postulated above can be determined by iteration using specialised
software packages and assuming stress intensity factor solutions applicable to the respective flaw and weld configurations.
Residual stresses can be estimated conservatively as being equal to the lower yield stress of the parent and weld metal and
applicable residual stress relaxation can be allowed. As mentioned above, the weld root is in a region of compressive stress
and advantage may be taken of this in assessing the critical defect size. Thus the hardest region to inspect can frequently be the
region most tolerant of relatively large flaws.
Inspection
Several methods of NDT can be used to locate the presence of flaws in the weld. These are as follows:

Magnetic particle inspection (MPI) and penetrant testing for surface breaking flaws from external visible surfaces

Compression wave ultrasonic testing (UT) for lamellar flaws and lack of fusion flaws between the buttering layer and
the mother pipe

Creeping wave UT to check for flaws from both the inside and the outside of the pup piece to inspect the weld metal
more fully. It should be noted that shear wave UT may not be as effective in inspection the full weld.

The important parameter to note is the reliability of the inspection method, measured as the probability of detection (PoD).
Simplistically this improves as the defect size increases. However, the user should be aware that any improvement of detection
capability tends to saturate around a probability of detection level of between 70 to 90% (lower for some NDT methods such
as radiography). Above these levels, flaw dimensions have to increase considerably to obtain even a small increase in the PoD.
In an ideal world, the reliability of the inspection method would be based on rigorous inspection programmes. However a
balance has to be struck between the desire for complete confidence that the weld is free of flaws and the critical flaw size that
can be found in practice. In reality, experience and judgement is required to estimate the effectiveness of the inspection
procedure. Carefully designed inspection procedures can improve the chances of locating a flaw for different regions of the
weld. Thus inspection using compression wave probes prior to buttering can help to ensure that the mother pipe is free of
inclusions. Inspection of the buttering layer using MPI or PT with compression wave UT prior to the main weld being laid
down can provide full volumetric inspection for any defects between the buttering layer and the main pup piece weld. Using a
combination of these techniques and based on expert judgement of the NDT capability, it is possible to qualify most of the
weld as having the required integrity provided the critical flaw dimensions predicted by the ECA are sufficiently large.

One region which is more problematic to inspect is the root of the main weld. Often inspection of this region is difficult
because of the local weld configuration and poor access. Hence it may not be possible to qualify the weld on the basis of NDT
reports alone. However, fitness for service can be argued on the basis of whether it is reasonable to expect flaws larger than the
tolerable flaw size in this region. It was noted previously that tolerable flaw dimensions for this region are relatively large and
a flaw larger that the root run around the entire circumference of the root is very unlikely. However, where such an argument
is used it will be necessary to inspect the weld root visually for quality (e.g. using a boroscope).

SPE 145125

Conclusion
Under normal circumstances the integrity of all welds and pipeline components should be demonstrated using a strength test
by pressurising to a specified factor above the design stress. However, for some welds (particularly where the line is already in
service), this is not always possible. Here inspection may be the best available alternative. In this case, it is necessary to
demonstrate that the inspection has the capability of reliably detecting flaws smaller that a size likely to compromise the
integrity of the weld in service. This requires a fitness for service approach based on fracture mechanics. In addition, a
materials testing programme is required to demonstrate the fracture toughness properties of the weld and adjacent material. A
comprehensive argument based on the evidence described above can provide justification that the golden weld has the integrity
required to operate safely in practice.

References

British Standards Institution, BS7608:1993 Code of practice Fatigue Design and Assessment of Steel
Structures, 1993

Det Norsk Veritas, DNV OS F101, Submarine pipeline systems, October 2007