State societies of NSPE have been requesting that NSPE provide detailed information on the rationale for initiatives to remove decades-old industrial exemptions from state engineering statutes. The case of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is in the news again, this time with the arrest of an unlicensed engineer on charges of destroying evidence. The news release from NCEES is reprinted below in its entirety—it speaks for itself. Licensed professional engineers are obligated to practice ethically and to hold paramount the protection of public health, safety and welfare. Unlicensed engineers are only accountable under the provisions of general law, which are far less specific and less restrictive than engineering licensure requirements. Engineers practicing in a manner that potentially impacts public health, safety, and welfare should be licensed professional engineers, and there is no rationale that it is in the public interest for engineers in industry to be exempt from these requirements. The Gulf oil disaster is an excellent case in point.
May 3, 2012
Contact: Jerry Carter
New developments in aftermath of Deepwater Horizon disaster emphasize role of licensure in ethical engineering practice
With the arrest of former BP engineer Kurt Mix putting the Deepwater Horizon disaster back in the headlines, it is important to remember the vital role that the licensing of engineers plays in protecting the American public, not just from technical incompetence but also from unethical practices.
Mix was arrested on April 24 on charges of obstruction of justice. He is accused of intentionally destroying electronic records related to the response to the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which killed 11 and led to the largest oil spill in U.S. history. The first individual to face criminal charges following the disaster, Mix is accused of deleting hundreds of text messages, including some concerning the amount of oil potentially flowing into the Gulf of Mexico following the Macondo well explosions. While Mix should be afforded the presumption of innocence that any accused person is entitled to under our legal system, the allegations surrounding his arrest present an opportunity for sober judgment about the public’s interest in the practice of engineering.
Most of the media reports about Mix are referring to him as an engineer. Individuals such as Mix practice engineering in the private sector every day without a license under licensure exemptions. While state laws may not always require a license, NCEES is committed to advancing licensure for engineers to better protect the public from incompetent or unethical practice.
Professional engineers are licensed at the state level; they must meet education and experience requirements in addition to passing a standardized examination program. To maintain a license, a P.E. must adhere to a strict code of conduct, with the primary charge being to practice the profession in a manner that protects the health, safety, and welfare of the public. A professional engineer who violates this obligation is subject to losing his or her license.
In a statement released in June 2010 during efforts to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, NCEES leadership highlighted the role of engineering licensure in protecting the public from incompetent or unethical practice. The latest developments in the Deepwater Horizon disaster call attention to the importance of ensuring that business activities do not sacrifice the well-being of our nation’s citizens. It is a mission to which NCEES and its member licensing boards remain firmly committed.
Dale Jans, P.E.
NCEES Executive Director
This blog posting has been reviewed and edited by L.Robert Smith, P.E., F.NSPE, and Bernard R. Berson, P.E., P.L.S., F.NSPE.
Published May 17, 2012 by Craig Musselman, P.E., F.NSPE
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of and should not be attributable to the National Society of Professional Engineers.