Petroleum Engineering Professionalism and Ethics
Posted by D Nathan Meehan July 26, 2013

Engineering professionalism and ethics



A great deal has been written about professionalism and engineering ethics. This material along with expanded examples and detailed discussions of engineers as expert witnesses appears in the book Advanced Reservoir Engineering and Management[1]. This blog entry summarizes some of the specific requirements for petroleum engineers. Baker Hughes is committed to the highest standards of ethical behavior and legal compliance. The Baker Hughes “Code of Conduct” provides an ethical roadmap for our employees. Highly recommended reading includes “Good Ethics Makes Good Business Sense[2]” and “Building a Best-in-Class Compliance Program[3].”


 ethics BHI

What is a Profession?


A profession is a career or occupation based on specialized education and training, the purpose of which is to provide disinterested counsel or service for a defined compensation independent of other business gain.  Examples of professions include accounting, surveying, medicine, dentistry, actuarial science, law, architecture and engineering. Professions share several characteristics including:

  • Being a full-time occupation,
  • Having a specialized course of study,
  • Being governed by local and national associations,
  • Having codes of professional conduct, and
  • Having state licensing regulations.


The existence of state regulatory bodies governing the practice of a profession and deciding who can be admitted into a profession limits access to that profession and bestows a limited monopoly on the practice of that profession.  If the state requires a medical doctor to approve prescriptions for certain medicines, the required training and testing of medical doctors provides a kind of limited monopoly.  Similarly, requiring a licensed professional engineer to certify a certain type of document restricts those who can practice certain aspects of the profession.


Can you imagine a situation in which a company could employ medical doctors or attorneys who were not educated and licensed to governmental standards? They would be limited to only doing certain internal activities that didn’t affect the public. We would assume that would be unusual. But in the case of U.S. petroleum engineering it is, in fact, the norm[4]. Most states do not require the licensing of engineers who are employees of a company that do not offer to perform engineering services to the public. Some people refer to licensed professional engineers as “registered” engineers; the term licensed conveys the concept more correctly.





The Society of Petroleum Engineers[5] is the largest professional organization that represents engineers including more reservoir engineers than any other organization. Engineering ethics deals with the standards of professional conduct for engineers with respect to the engineer’s responsibility to the public, to his employer and clients and to the profession of engineering.  The SPE Guide for Professional Conduct summarizes these obligations.


Guide for Professional Conduct



Engineers recognize that the practice of engineering has a vital influence on the quality of life for all people. Engineers should exhibit high standards of competency, honesty, integrity, and impartiality; be fair and equitable; and accept a personal responsibility for adherence to applicable laws, the protection of the environment, and safeguarding the public welfare 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 ethical practice of engineering for all who use engineering services with fundamental concern for protecting the environment and safeguarding the health, safety and well-being of the public in the pursuit of this practice.


Canons of Professional Conduct

  • Engineers offer services in the areas of their competence and experience, affording full disclosure of their qualifications.
  • Engineers consider the consequences of their work and societal issues pertinent to it and seek to extend public understanding of those relationships.
  • Engineers are honest, truthful, ethical, and fair in presenting information and in making public statements, which reflect on professional matters and their professional role.
  • Engineers engage in professional relationships without bias because of race, religion, gender, age, ethnic or national origin, attire, or disability.
  • Engineers act in professional matters for each employer or client as faithful agents or trustees disclosing nothing of a proprietary or confidential nature concerning the business affairs or technical processes of any present or former client or employer without the necessary consent.
  • Engineers disclose to affected parties any known or potential conflicts of interest or other circumstances, which might influence, or appear to influence, judgment or impair the fairness or quality of their performance.
  • Engineers are responsible for enhancing their professional competence throughout their careers and for encouraging similar actions by their colleagues.
  • Engineers accept responsibility for their actions; seek and acknowledge criticism of their work; offer honest and constructive criticism of the work of others; properly credit the contributions of others; and do not accept credit for work not their own.
  • Engineers, 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, if warranted, consider further disclosure.
  • Engineers seek to adopt technical and economical measures to minimize environmental impact.
  • Engineers participate with other professionals in multi-discipline teams to create synergy and to add value to their work product.
  • Engineers 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.

— Approved by the Board of Directors 26 September 2004




[1] Ahmed, T. and Meehan, D.N., Gulf Professional Publishing, 2nd edition.

[2] Azeez, T., Martin, J. G., and Craighead, M. S., IPTC 12543.

[3] Deaton, C. C., 2009 Global Ethics Summit.

[4] This contrasts with Canada where engineering licensure is more common for petroleum engineers working for corporations.

[5] The Mission of the SPE is “…to collect, disseminate, and exchange technical knowledge concerning the exploration, development and production of oil and gas resources, and related technologies for the public benefit; and to provide opportunities for professionals to enhance their technical and professional competence.”

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D Nathan Meehan