Sometimes, connections need to be made to a pipeline or a tank without taking the pipeline or tank out of operation. When that happens, it’s time for hot tapping. Hot tapping refers to the ability to make connections to a tank or pipeline without having to shut it down beforehand. Usually, this is done through careful welding and cutting.
There are a few methods of tapping into live systems, but hot tapping is one of the most straightforward and consistent. And though hot tapping can bring with it some risks on its own, it usually greatly reduces the risk to the company in terms of employee safety, system downtime, and product containment.
What Is Pipeline Hot Tapping?
Pipeline hot tapping provides the ability to tap into an in-use, pressurized tank or pipe for the purposes of maintenance or monitoring. Through pipeline hot tapping, oil and gas companies are able to provide core maintenance without having to take down their machines — something that could cost them thousands or even millions of dollars.
Pipeline hot tapping is differentiated from other types of pipeline tapping such as cold tapping and wet tapping. The most common types of pipeline hot tapping will simply add a section of pipe and a valve, which can then be connected as desired to a new system, or be used to relieve pressure. Because pipeline hot tapping is so simple, it’s also a process that can be done quickly, and it’s versatile enough that the fittings can then be transitioned to whatever the system requires.
How is Hot Tapping Achieved?
Hot tapping is started by connecting a branch connection and a valve to a pipeline or tank that is still in operation. Once the branch has already been connected, the pipe within the branch is cut, thereby releasing the products within the pipeline or tank into the new connection. Through hot tapping, maintenance can be completed without loss of product, nothing dangerous gets released into the environment, and there’s no service disruption.
Generally, hot tapping is completed through the use of welding. New connections will be welded to the existing material, and then the cutting will occur from within the new connection. Thus, there’s never any possibility that a leak could occur. Fittings such as hot tap saddles and hot tapping tees are frequently used.
In oil and gas, hot tapping is particularly important because it can be used to alleviate potentially dangerous issues or to perform regular, scheduled work without having to cut service or stop pumping. In the oil and gas industry, it’s particularly important to ensure that the environment is not impacted by the materials that are being piped and pumped, and to make sure that there is as limited downtime as is possible for the system.
What is Hot Tapping Used For?
Through hot tapping, pipelines can be maintained without having to be emptied first. Pressure can also be alleviated, and fluids can be drained as needed, under a controlled system, rather than having to empty the entire pipeline or tank at once. There are also systems that can be pre-installed in pipes or tanks to make it easier to hot tap as needed, such as hot tapping plugging systems. Hot tap saddles make the process easier.
By far, the most important part of hot tapping is that it doesn’t require any system interruption. Many hot tapping companies specialize in non-disruptive services for that reason. For oil and gas companies, a single disruption could be extraordinarily expensive.
For gas pipelines, hot tapping is critical because no gas is released in the air during the process.
Pipeline hot tapping is also usually a more direct, simple response to maintenance or upgrade problems. If a pipeline has to be reconfigured or otherwise modified, pipeline hot tapping means that the modification can be done quickly and easily. Without pipeline hot tapping, the changes that need to be made may be quite a bit more extensive. Extensive changes aren’t just more expensive, but they also have more potential failure points.
Finally, hot tapping improves upon worker safety, because workers are less likely to potentially be exposed to oil and gas within these pressurized systems. Though there is still some risk associated with cutting into a live pipeline, there’s far less of a chance they are going to be exposed to actual materials.
What Are Cold Tapping and Wet Tapping?
Cold tapping occurs when a live pipeline is tapped without the need for any welding or hot work. These could be used to check the safety of a tank or pipeline, to release pressure, or to release fluids. Wet tapping is similar, and usually involves a sleeve, which facilitates the entire tapping process. Wet tapping is sometimes used as a synonym for hot tapping. Regardless, these are all terms for tapping into an active system; they simply differ with the exact process that is used.
Are There Issues with Hot Tapping?
Hot tapping can still be dangerous, especially in a field that has to do with potentially harmful materials. It’s possible that burning-through could occur, or that the product could experience an unstable decomposition. The materials inside the tank or pipe could react negatively to the heat it is being exposed to during the process of welding on the new conduit or cutting through the pipe; a critical temperature cannot be exceeded. Hydrogen cracking is another issue that could occur during the hot tap process.
If a problem does occur during hot tapping, it is likely that the system is going to have to be shut down and repaired. It’s also possible that the materials within the system will need to be contained. But because these issues can occur, it’s important that precautions be taken when hot tapping, that the right equipment be used, and that the hot tapping itself be conducted by skilled, experienced teams who understand the risks.
Avoiding Disruption through Hot Tapping
Most oil and gas companies need to avoid disruption and outages at any cost. Disruption and outages can be difficult to content with; for gas pipelines, it can mean that notifications need to be sent throughout an entire region. For oil pipelines, it can mean that millions of dollars are lost during the system outage. Furthermore, oil and gas companies need to ensure that they are being proactive about potential environmental hazard. With pipeline hot tapping, the risk of a spill is greatly reduced.
Pipeline hot tapping is a more advanced skill when it comes to welding, because of the systems and stakes involved. If you’re interested in learning more about hot tapping, how it’s completed, and specialized equipment that reduces the risk of error, contact the experts at Steel Forgings today.