Have you noticed that the programming of the SPE Gulf Coast Section is featuring more
speakers on engineering ethics? Sixty-two people attended the May 11 SPE Facilities and
Construction Study Group meeting where an engineering ethics video and discussion called
“Incident at Morales” was presented by Elbert Link.

An August 24 full-day workshop called “Ethics for the Practicing Engineer” will be taught by Ray James. September 14 is the date scheduled for Ron Harrell to speak on “Ethical Relationships between Client and Consultant.” On October 20, Pete Rose will present “Anticipating and Resolving Ethical Conflicts in Petroleum Exploration and Production.”

A crowd is anticipated at all of these fall SPE events in part because the Texas Board of
Professional Engineers has included an annual hour of ethics training as part of the new
Continuing Education Program for PE’s. The luncheons will also be of interest to other SPE
members who are not PE’s because this topic relates to all professionals in the upstream E&P
industry in one way or another.

Rushworth Kidder has written an excellent book on ethics entitled “How Good People Make
Tough Choices – Resolving the Dilemmas of Ethical Living.” He describes ethical dilemmas as
“right vs. right” as compared to other decisions that are clearly “right vs. wrong.” Although the
book doesn’t specifically address engineering ethics, it does resonate with engineers because of
the systematic approach he advocates. In his book, he develops four paradigms to use to
analyze and categorize difficult decisions:

  • Truth versus loyalty
  • Individual versus community
  • Short-term versus long-term
  • Justice versus mercy

Kidder uses these paradigms to help separate the “right vs. right” from the “right vs. wrong”, to
strip away details to get to the heart of the decision and to develop patterns for making better
decisions. He also recommends using three principles drawn from traditional philosophy to
help resolve the dilemma by using reason to make a decision: 

  • Ends-based – utilitarianism
  • Rules-based – follow the rule that you would like to be universal
  • Care-based – the Golden Rule

I don’t know about you, but my engineering education didn’t include much in the way of Philosophy, so this makes for fascinating reading.

At the Murdough Center for Engineering Professionalism’s National Institute for Engineering Ethics, www.niee.org, there are ethics materials to download. An example includes “Incident at Morales,” the script of the video that was shown at the Facilities & Construction study group meeting on May 11. Much of the material on this site is free, and there are other links for self-directed study of engineering ethics.

In 1985, SPEI adopted a Guide for Professional Conduct that serves as a code of ethics for SPE members. The Preamble: Engineers recognize that the practice of engineering has a direct and vital influence on the quality of life for all people. Therefore, engineers should exhibit high standards of competency, honesty, and impartiality; be fair and equitable; and accept a personal responsibility for adherence to applicable laws, the protection of the public health, and maintenance of safety in their professional actions and behavior. These principles govern professional conduct in serving the interests of the public, clients, employers, colleagues, and the profession. The Fundamental Principle: The engineer as a professional is dedicated to improving competence, service, fairness, and the exercise of well-founded judgment in the practice of engineering for the public, employers, and clients with fundamental concern for the public health and safety in the pursuit of this practice. You can read the rest of the Guide by searching the site map of www.spe.org for “ethics.” 

For SPE members who are Professional Engineers in the state of Texas, 15 professional
development hours (PDH) per year are now required each year by the Texas Board of
Professional Engineers. Five of those hours can be related to active participation in a technical
society such as SPE, including:

  • Serving as an elected or appointed official;
  • Serving on a committee of the organization;
  • Making or attending a presentation at such a meeting; and
  • Writing a paper presented at a meeting.

PE’s can start collecting their Continuing Education Program credits from Sept. 2003 through 2004 for their 2005 calendar year renewals. A minimum of 1 PDH must be in the area of professional ethics, roles and responsibilities of Professional Engineering, or a review of the Texas Engineering Practice Act and Board Rules.

Thanks to my colleagues Tim Gilblom and Brad Johnson who shared some of the ethics resources in this article with me. If you have additional resources to share or speakers to recommend, send me your comments on engineering ethics to susan_howes@anadarko.com