They’ve already started recovering the corpses of oil-poisoned dolphins, sea turtles and birds from the troubled waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Another casualty in this slowly unfolding catastrophe is the reputation of the engineering profession—and not just petroleum and oil-drilling platform engineers, who certainly have much to regret about the Deepwater Horizon explosion. The disaster affects the reputation of all engineers.
What’s happening now in the Gulf is another failure for a profession already deeply afflicted with an identity crisis and which questions its role in U.S. society. Part of the problem stems from much-publicized disasters of years past, like the Three Mile Island nuclear accident and the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. Five short years after the flooding of New Orleans, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is prompting questions about the failure of engineers either to foresee risks or invent a quick fix.