Pipeline operators’ utmost priority is to achieve high safety measures during the lifecycle of pipelines including effective management of integrity threats during excavation and repair processes. A single incident pertaining to a mechanical damage in a gas pipeline has been reported previously which resulted in one fatality and one injury during investigation. Some operators have reported leaking cracks while investigating rock induced dents. Excavation under full operating pressure can lead to changes in boundary conditions and unexpected loads, resulting in failure, injuries, or fatalities. In the meantime, lowering operating pressure during excavation can have a significant impact on production and operational availability. The situation poses two conflicting objectives; namely, maximizing safety and maximizing operational availability. Current pipeline regulations require that operators have to ensure safe working conditions by depressurizing the line to a level that will not cause a failure during the repair process. However, there are no detailed guidelines on how an operator should determine a safe excavation pressure (SEP) level, which could lead to engineering judgment and subjectivity in determining such safety level. While the pipeline industry relies on well-defined fitness for purpose analyses for threats such as crack and corrosion, there is a gap in defining a fitness for purpose for dents and dents associated with stress riser features in order to set an SEP. Stress and strain based assessment of dents can be used in this matter; however, it requires advanced techniques to account for geometric and material nonlinearity. Additionally, loading and unloading scenarios during excavation (e.g. removal of indenter, overburden pressure, etc.) drive a change in the boundary conditions of the pipe that could lead to leakage. Nevertheless, crack initiation or presence within a dent should be considered, which requires the incorporation of crack geometry and application of fracture mechanics in assessing a safe excavation pressure. Recently, there have been advancements in stress and strain based finite element analysis (FEA) of dents coupled with structural reliability analysis that can be utilized to assess SEP. This paper presents a reliability-based approach to determine a safe excavation pressure for dented liquid pipelines. The approach employs nonlinear FEA to model dents interacting with crack features coupled with uncertainties associated with pipe properties and in-line-inspection information. A fracture mechanics-based limit state is formulated to estimate the probability of failure of dents associated with cracks at different levels of operating pressure during excavation. The application of the developed approach is demonstrated through examples within limited scope. Recommended enhancements and future developments of the proposed approach are also discussed.

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