Reducing risks in oil and gas transportation

The oil and gas sector, like many industries, relies heavily on transportation to move crude oil from wellheads to refineries or refined products from refineries to their final destination, using tankers at sea and pipelines, railroads and trucks on land. Natural gas is mostly transported by pipelines and liquefied natura gas tankers.

Docked tanker

Safety on tankers

Safety is of the utmost importance when transportation is involved. Whatever their size – from the smaller general-purpose tankers for refined products, to the super tankers that transport crude oil – tankers face a huge number of hazards at all times. Some examples include:  

  • Cargo, which is flammable in nature, and bound to release some types of gases.
  • Equipment carried by seafarers, such as torches, mobile phones or cameras, may pose potential fire/explosion risks, especially if they are not intrinsically safe. Only explosion-proof equipment should be used aboard such vessels.
  • All electrical equipment in general, such as power tools, used in daily operations and for repairs.
  • Lightning or electrical storms, Cigarettes, which have caused fires in the past and led to a general smoking ban on deck and in prohibited areas.

Tanker design

Tanker architecture is extremely important. Older tankers, built as single-hulled vessels, are expected to be phased out by 2026, in accordance with the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL 73/78). Most newer tankers are double-hulled, allowing an extra space between the hull and the storage tanks.

It is worth noting that, since the 1970s, the number of spills has gone down drastically. According to the International Tankers Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF), the average number was 79 in the 1970s and decreased by over 90% to 6 in the 2010s.

Modern tankers are said to be safer when grounding incidents occur, but still can be breached in case of hull or equipment failure, fire/explosion, or collision with another vessel.

Land transport

When dealing with oil or gas transport on land, the choice is between trucks, railroads and pipelines.

Road safety measures for tanker trucks go further than just speed limits. Trucks are airtight and a system of dividers stops the liquid moving forward and backward. The shape of the tank also plays a role and makes for safer transportation: oval for diesel and gasoline, circular for LNG.

Historically, railroads were the primary means of oil transportation. Today, they are in competition with pipelines, but because they offer more flexible routes, they are still a viable alternative.

Common issues

All means of transportation have their advantages, disadvantages and  common points: the need for ongoing maintenance, repair and overhaul, the use of Ex-proof equipment when applicable, as well as extensive safety measures for those operating the vessels or vehicles.

Operators must establish measures to ensure that corrosion, leaks and failures never stay unnoticed and are seen to as soon as possible, to avoid human casualties and environmental damage.

Automation and smart technologies are increasingly used in the oil and gas industry sector. In addition to all technological advances that make vehicles safer, such as automatic braking systems, adaptive cruise control, sensors and alerting systems, transportation management systems provide valuable assistance in monitoring supply chains and identifying how, when and where to move products safely. Sensors also help to monitor corrosion, cracks and anything out of the ordinary in tanks and pipelines.

Designed and built for Ex areas

All pieces of equipment and devices used in explosive atmospheres, whether large or small, electrical or non-electrical, must be designed and built in compliance with the strict requirements set out in standards and specifications, most notably in the IEC 60079 or ISO/IEC 80079 series of International Standards developed by IEC Technical Committee (TC) 31: Equipment for explosive atmospheres, and its Subcommittee (SC) 31M: Non-electrical equipment and protective systems for explosive atmospheres.

Testing and certification are a must

In addition to designing and building devices in compliance with IEC International Standards, they must be tested and certified,  to ensure that any piece of equipment meets the required criteria. Products associated with a certificate of conformity satisfy the criteria for safe usage in hazardous environments.

The Ex industry can rely on IECEx, the IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres, for testing and certification, to achieve this.

An IECEx certificate provides clear proof of compliance with International Standards, an important assurance for anyone responsible for the safety of those working in such areas.

Repairing, not replacing

Ex equipment has a much higher capital cost than the same equipment used elsewhere, so repairing it is often more cost-effective than replacing it. IEC TC 31, has developed IEC 60079-19, which gives instructions, principally of a technical nature, for the repair, overhaul, reclamation and modification of equipment designed for use in explosive atmospheres. This ensures that unique Ex safety features are not compromised during the repair process. The system includes on-site audits prior to issuing the IECEx certificate and periodic audit reports.

The IECEx certified service facilities scheme also covers other Ex related services including installation and inspection of Ex equipment and installations.

High level of safety for Ex workforce

What if equipment operators do not possess the specific qualifications required to work in Ex environments?

IECEx has developed the IECEx certification of personnel competence scheme for assessing and certifying individuals working in potentially hazardous areas.

The IECEx CoPC (certificate of personnel competence) provides independent proof that the certificate holder has the required 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. This includes assessing their ability to perform certain Ex-related tasks.