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Professional and Ethical Engineering

The Deepwater Horizon disaster brought about a great deal of public attention. The disaster was even the plot of the movie Deepwater Horizon that sensationalized the events that took place on the rig up to and following the deadly explosion. However, it is important to remember that this was a real incident and poor decision-making led to eleven deaths on the rig. Engineers, geoscientists, and other rig crew members have the responsibility to act carefully and ethically to make the best decisions. Their jobs are extremely important and faulty practices can ultimately cost lives. 

In Memoriam

The eleven men who died on the Deepwater Horizon:

Jason Anderson

Aaron Dale Burkeen

Donald “Duck” Clark

Stephen Ray Curtis

Gordon Jones

Roy Wyatt Kemp

Karl Kleppinger Jr.

Keith Blair Manuel

Dewey Revette

Shane Roshto

Adam Weise

 The Deepwater Horizon memorial sculpture “Eleven,” located on on Dauphine Street in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Code of Ethics

Professional engineers take seriously their responsibility — not just for the quality of the jobs they work on — but for the safety and well-being of the public at large.1National Society of Professional Engineers. (n.d.). Ethics. Retrieved July 13, 2021, from https://www.nspe.org/resources/ethics In addition to the increased safety regulations that resulted from the Macondo disaster, many engineering organization updated their code of ethics or code of conduct during the year of the incident. The Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), a worldwide membership platform for petroleum engineers revised their code of conduct in September of 2010. The SPE holds members to a code of conduct to ensure integrity and safety are met at all times. Shown below are some of the components in the SPE code of conduct for their members.2Society of Petroleum Engineers. (2013, September 29). Code of conduct. https://www.spe.org/en/about/professional-code-of-conduct/

  • When perceiving a consequence of their professional duties to adversely affect the present or future public health and safety, shall formally advise their employers or clients, and subordinates and, if warranted, consider further disclosure to appropriate parties 
  • Seek to adopt technical and economic measures to render potentially adverse impacts to environment or the health, safety, and security of the public as low as reasonably practicable 
  • Act in accordance with all applicable laws and the canons of ethics as applicable to the practice of engineering as stated in the laws and regulations governing the practice of engineering in their country, territory, or state, and lend support to others who strive to do likewise 

Local professional organizations also have a specific code of ethics for engineers, such as the Texas Society of Professional Engineers (TSPE). The TSPE follows the same code of ethics as the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). The NSPE code of ethics entails fundamental principles, rules of practice, and professional obligations. The organizations fundamental principles outlined in the NSPE Code of Ethics are as follows:3National Society of Professional Engineers. (n.d.). NSPE code of ethics for engineers. Retrieved July 13, 2021, from https://www.nspe.org/resources/ethics/code-ethics

  • Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public. 
  • Engineers shall perform services only in the areas of their competence.
  • Engineers shall issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner.
  • Engineers shall act for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees.
  • Engineers shall avoid deceptive acts.
  • Conduct themselves honorably, responsibly, ethically, and lawfully so as to enhance the honor, reputation, and usefulness of the profession.

Engineers have important jobs and their duties reflect the responsibility to ensure the safety of people and the environment. Negligent professional activity will not only lead to financial costs or project delays, but it could cost someone their life, result in legal ramifications, and cause an engineer to lose their license or professional association. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that engineers perform under a standard of professional behavior that requires adherence to the highest principles of ethical conduct.4National Society of Professional Engineers. (n.d.). NSPE code of ethics for engineers. Retrieved July 13, 2021, from https://www.nspe.org/resources/ethics/code-ethics

Career Spotlight: Dr. Paul Bommer 

Paul Bommer, a distinguished senior lecturer in the Hildebrand Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, served on the National Academy of Engineering Committee, responsible for investigating the causes of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Blowout. Additionally, Dr. Bommer served as a petroleum engineer on staff of the Federal Government’s Flow Rate and Technical Group, estimating the amount of escapable oil from the Macondo Well following the blowout. According to an article published by the Cockrell School of Engineering, “the results of Flow Rate Technical Group calculations, which they reported in a statement June 10th, estimated the range of flow before the riser was cut as between 20,000 and 40,000 barrels a day, with the most likely rate between 25,000 and 30,000 barrels per day5Petroleum engineer aids spill estimates. Cockrell School of Engineering. (n.d.). Retrieved September 29, 2021, from https://cockrell.utexas.edu/news/archive/6550-bommerflowrate..” At the University, Dr. Bommer’s primary research areas target production engineering, drilling and completions, along with teaching several courses in the PGE Department, and decades of industry experience. Dr. Bommer received a BS, MS, and PhD in Petroleum Engineering, all from The University of Texas at Austin. 

Dr. Bommer provides conventional petroleum engineering calculations to determine the amount of escaped oil from the Macondo Well as part of the plume team for the Flow Rate Technical Group (2010). 

Image Credits: Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock.com; Photo Courtesy of the Hildebrand Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering; Photo Courtesy of the Cockrell School of Engineering

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