Fossil fuels in the energy mix

Ensuring safety in the oil, gas and coal sector

While the part of renewable energy sources - solar, wind, marine and hydro - in the energy mix has been growing steadily in recent years, fossil fuels still play a major role in energy generation, distribution and consumption.

Workers at offshore oil rig
Offshore platforms need to be safe

Fossil fuels still leading in energy generation and consumption

Oil, gas and coal still take the lion’s share in power generation and consumption but for how long? According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global oil demand is expected to grow at least until 2040, used mainly in road freight, aviation and petrochemicals; on the contrary, oil demand for passenger cars is set to decline due to increased efficiency, biofuels, and the plan envisaged by several countries and cities around the world to ban gasoline and diesel cars by 2030 or 2040, thus favoring cleaner vehicles as part of the fight against global warming. 

Gas is the only fossil fuel whose market share is growing, thanks in good part to liquefied natural gas (LNG) which today represents more than half the global long-distance gas trade (up from a quarter in 2000). 

The IEA sees only a marginal growth in coal consumption over the next 25 years due to climate change issues and the increasing diversification of the energy mix. 

The pros and cons of fossil fuels

There are several advantages to having such a high share of fossil fuels in the world’s energy mix. Very large amounts of electricity can be generated in one place, fairly cheaply, using coal; transporting oil and gas to power stations is easy; gas-fired power stations are efficient; and fossil-fuelled power stations can be built almost anywhere as long as they can receive large quantities of fuel. 

There are drawbacks as well. Pollution is one: burning any fossil fuel produces CO2 (carbon dioxide) which contributes to the greenhouse effect. In addition, oil, gas and coal are not renewable energy sources. Last but not least, coal mining, oil drilling and gas extraction sites are considered hazardous areas where the risk of explosion, oil spills or gas leaks is high and always present, and workers at these sites are often exposed to harsh and extreme conditions. 

Safety in potentially explosive areas relies largely on the proper and safe interaction of equipment and human factors. 

While there is no guarantee that working in Ex atmospheres can be 100% risk-free, the oil and gas industry and the mining sector have tools at their disposal to make their environment as safe as possible. 

The IEC, together with IECEx, the IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres, provides very specific compliance tools for those manufacturing, repairing or operating the equipment used in hazardous areas. 

Built to IEC International Standards, tested and certified by IECEx

IEC International Standards prepared by IEC Technical Committee (TC) 31: Equipment for explosive atmospheres, provide designers, manufacturers, installers, maintenance and repair specialists with the specifications and requirements against which Ex electrical and non-electrical (mechanical) equipment has to be built, installed, maintained and repaired. Market demand for these Standards has increased significantly in recent years and many countries have adopted them. 

IECEx has put in place a number of Certification Schemes that provide assurance that:

  • Electrical and non-electrical equipment and systems are manufactured and operated according to the highest International Standards of safety
  • service providers including repair and overhaul workshops comply with IEC safety Standards
  • persons involved in these areas are competent to apply the strict safety standards 

Safety of Ex equipment

A great number of companies rely on IECEx for the testing and certification of their products. Manufacturers have to meet the very strict requirements specified in the IEC 60079 series of International Standards on explosive atmospheres as well as those put in place by national or regional regulations and legislation. Proving adherence to those requirements can be costly and time-intensive. An IECEx certificate is like a passport for manufacturers of Ex equipment: it provides clear proof of compliance with International Standards and it certifies that the equipment in question carries the requisite level of protection. 

In 2016, in response to Ex industry demands, IECEx integrated into its operation International Standards ISO 80079-36, Explosive atmospheres - Part 36: Non-electrical equipment forexplosive atmospheres - Basic method and requirements, and ISO 80079-37Explosive atmospheres - Part 37: Non-electrical equipment for explosive atmospheres - Non electrical type of protection constructional safety "c", control of ignition source "b", liquid immersion "k", which cover non-electrical equipment. To prevent explosions, both electrical and non-electrical equipment needs to be taken into consideration in a systems approach. IEC and ISO worked closely to prepare ISO 80079-36 and ISO 80079-37 on non-electrical equipment for explosive atmospheres. The Standards provide methods and requirements for the design, construction, testing and marking of non-electrical Ex equipment, Ex components, protective systems, devices and assemblies that are used in explosive atmospheres. Also, in 2016, IECEx commenced issuing certificates according to these two Standards. 

Maintenance and repair of Ex equipment

Because Ex equipment has a much higher capital cost than the same equipment used elsewhere, repairing it is often more cost-effective than replacing it. The IECEx Certified Service Facilities Scheme assesses and certifies that organizations and workshops that provide repair and overhaul services to the Ex industry do so according to the strict requirements of IEC 60079-19, Explosive atmospheres - Part 19: Equipment repair, overhaul and reclamation. This ensures that the unique Ex safety features are not compromised during the repair or overhaul process. The System includes on-site audits prior to issuing the IECEx Certificate, as well as periodic audit reports. 

Highly-skilled workforce

To cover all safety aspects in Ex environments and to complement the Certified Equipment Scheme, IECEx has developed the IECEx Certification of Personnel Competence Scheme for assessing and certifying individuals working in potentially hazardous areas. 

The IECEx Certificate of Personnel Competence (CoPC) provides independent proof that the certificate holder has the requisite qualifications and experience for working on electrical equipment located in hazardous areas and can implement IEC International Standards covering explosive atmospheres. 

For the CoPC, competence is defined as "the ability to apply knowledge" rather than simply assessing knowledge. In this sense, the assessment of persons evaluates their ability to perform certain Ex-related tasks. 

To learn more about IECEx and its Schemes, go to: