WAS THE DEEPWATER HORIZON ACCIDENT CAUSED, IN PART, BY THE INDUSTRIAL AND GOVERNMENT EXEMPTIONS IN THE ENGINEERING PRACTICE LAWS?
SHORT ANSWER: PROBALY YES
By John F Heneage, PE
Politicians argue that it is not time to figure out who is responsible or what caused the accident, they say we can figure this out later. Translation: We might have indirectly had a role in causing this accident and we need time to cover it up and re-direct the associated inquiries. Direct answer: Politicians and corporate management had a direct and causal relationship to the accident, specifically by failing to require licensed engineers be part of the process, lay persons were allowed to make key technical decisions that facilitated the tragedy.
All economic activity involves elements of risk. For high risk activities, society weighs the benefit of an activity against the risk the activity poses and often thinks regulation will minimize the exposure to these risks. High risk activities, such as the Deepwater Horizon well, almost always involve engineering. Present state engineering license laws require some, but not all engineers to be licensed. This haphazard approach allows lay persons and some engineers to practice engineering without being licensed.
Generally engineers working for government or industry are not required to be licensed, even though the decisions they make can be catastrophic. Licensed engineers are required to practice engineering in accordance with prescribed legal and ethical requirements. Licensed engineers have the force of law on their side, that is, if they encounter or are directed to perform activities that threaten, in their professional opinion, the health, safety or economic welfare of the public, they are legally required to report the activity to the proper authority[i]. Unlicensed individuals, some who may hold engineering degrees, are free to perform engineering activities with no restrictions.
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