Stress corrosion cracking (SCC) can occur on the exterior surface of high pressure hydrocarbon transmission pipelines fabricated from low carbon steels. Both the initiation of SCC and the ability of SCC to progressively increase in depth is a complex and poorly understood phenomena. Previous empirical evidence suggests that residual stresses may be involved in this initiation and growth process. This paper describes a laboratory research project designed to investigate the correlation between residual stress and SCC. In this project, tensile test specimens with increasing levels of compressive and tensile residual stress on the surface and through the thickness of the specimen were fabricated. These stresses were sufficiently large as to dominate the other slight variations in material properties that may occur on identically formed test specimens. The residual stresses were then mapped across the length and through the depth of the specimens by a non-destructive neutron diffraction technique. A SCC initiation process was applied to the specimens. It was found that the formation of micro-pitting, to a depth up to 200 μm, occurred preferentially in areas where tensile residual stresses were the highest (about 300 MPa). Initiation of SCC, although found all at the bottom of this micro-pitting, occurred with a 71% normalized frequency in locations where the surface residual stress was in the range of 150 MPa to 200 MPa. Experimental data revealed that cracks generated in near-neutral pH environments can be readily blunted, due to both plastic deformation (room temperature creep) and extensive dissolution. As a result, a high positive tensile residual stress gradient is necessary for developing cracks in pipeline steels exposed to near-neutral pH environments. The tensile residual stress represents a large mechanical driving force for initial crack nucleation and short crack growth. Active cracks may become dormant as the near-surface residual stress gradient changes from a high to a low tensile stress or if the stress becomes compressive due to self-equilibration through the wall thickness direction. Special conditions may exist in pipeline steels where crack dormancy may not occur within a short distance to the surface, which may include, for example, the presence of a large tensile residual stress gradient over a longer distance, particular microstructures conducive to galvanic corrosion, and special environmental conditions susceptible to hydrogen-induced cracking.

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