On April 20th, 2010, an explosion rocked the Deepwater Horizon semi-submersible Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit which killed 11 workers, sank the rig, and caused one of the largest environmental disasters in history. An estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil was pumped into the ocean over the course of 87 days. Finally on September 19, 2010, the well was sealed after a total of five attempts. This begs the question, why did BP not have a plan in place for this kind of disaster?
The PEO Code of Ethics states that a practitioner shall “act at all times with fidelity to public needs”. There were numerous safety consideration that were overlooked during the construction and operation of the Deepwater rig and theses all contributed to the explosion and subsequent oil spill. Some of these omissions included:
- No environmental impact on task
- No detailed blowout plan
- Lack of remote triggers for the blowout preventer (BOP)
- Modifications were made to the BOP that increased the risk of failure
- Previous spills and 16 fires on Deepwater Horizon
- 18 pollution citations from the US Coast Guard
- Concerns from engineers that the metal casing used might collapse under high pressure
- Employee concerns about their safety coupled with fear of reporting mistakes and other problems
The House Energy and Commerce Committee, tasked with investigating the disaster, concluded that BP made several questionable decisions before the explosion that “posed a trade off between cost and well safety.” The employees with BP made their decisions as managers and not as engineers with their highest concern being to get the well operational as soon as possible. This is contrary to the Code of Ethics that says that an engineer’s duty to public welfare is more important that their duty to clients or employers. Perhaps if the safety of the well and public welfare were the primary concerns on the rig then this disaster may never have happened or, at least, a plan would have been in place to stop the oil spill in a much more timely fashion. These causes were in fact made by dumb engineers who didn't think through on Murphy's law.
- BBC Horizon 2010 Deepwater Disaster: The Untold Story, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UxVCOGkgko
- Professional Engineers Ontario Code of Ethics, Section 77 of the O. Reg. 941