Pipeline Hydro Test Pressure Determination

By Ramesh Singh, MS, I Eng, MWeld I, Gulf Interstate Engineering, Houston | October 2009 Vol. 236 No. 10

Hydrostatic testing has long been used to determine and verify pipeline integrity. Several types of information can be obtained through this verification process.

However, it is essential to identify the limits of the test process and obtainable results. There are several types of flaws that can be detected by hydrostatic testing, such as:

  • Existing flaws in the material,
  • Stress Corrosion Cracking (SCC) and actual mechanical properties of the pipe,
  • Active corrosion cells, and
  • Localized hard spots that may cause failure in the presence of hydrogen.

There are some other flaws that cannot be detected by hydrostatic testing. For example, the sub-critical material flaws cannot be detected by hydro testing, but the test has profound impact on the post test behavior of these flaws.

Given that the test will play a significant role in the nondestructive evaluation of pipeline, it is important to determine the correct test pressure and then utilize that test pressure judiciously, to get the desired results.

When a pipeline is designed to operate at a certain maximum operating pressure (MOP), it must be tested to ensure that it is structurally sound and can withstand the internal pressure before being put into service. Generally, gas pipelines are hydrotested by filling the test section of pipe with water and pumping the pressure up to a value that is higher than maximum allowable operating pressure (MAOP) and holding the pressure for a period of four to eight hours.

ASME B 31.8 specifies the test pressure factors for pipelines operating at hoop stress of ≥ 30% of SMYS. This code also limits the maximum hoop stress permitted during tests for various class locations if the test medium is air or gas. There are different factors associated with different pipeline class and division locations. For example, the hydrotest pressure for a class 3 or 4 location is 1.4 times the MOP. The magnitude of test pressure for class 1 division 1 gas pipeline transportation is usually limited to 125% of the design pressure, if the design pressure is known. The allowed stress in the pipe material is limited to 72% of SMYS. In some cases it is extended to 80% of SMYS. The position of Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) is similar. Thus, a pipeline designed to operate continuously at 1,000 psig will be hydrostatically tested to a minimum pressure of 1,250 psig.

Based on the above information, let us consider API 5L X70 pipeline of 32-inch NPS, that has a 0.500-inch wall thickness. Using a temperature de-rating factor of 1.00, we calculate the MOP of this pipeline from following:

P= {2x t x SMYS x1x factor (class1) x 1} / D (ASME B 31.8 Section, 841.11)

Substituting the values:

P= 2x 0.5 x 70,000 x1 x0.72 x1/32 = 1,575 psig

For the same pipeline, if designed to a factor of 0.8, the MOP will be computed to be 1750 psig.