Thursday, October 14, 2010

Esta noche todos somos Chilenos

"Tonight, we are all Chileans!"

With the rescue complete and the live updates on CNN finally over, the entire world can breath a sigh of relief that all of the trapped miners have been successfully freed.  So why is this disaster different than the Gulf oil spill?  The following is meant to be thought provoking harangue based on the limited or biased information received from news sources.  It not meant to be religious or political, although the points of the discussion may be.  It may not be entirely accurate, and some aspects are filled with best guesses to fill-in-the-blank, as news sources tend to leave out important details.  The point is, from an engineer's perspective, determine why things are classified or qualified in the terms they are.

Why is the mine rescue considered a success while the oil spill a disaster?
Weren't both events initiated by a tragic design or process flaw?  Yet, 2 months to rescue the miners is considered successful but months of stopping the oil leak is a failure?

I think the answer comes down to social and political aspects.  When the Deep Water Horizon exploded, the US government immediately got involved and BP management immediately got involved.  The goals of each of these organizations was not to stop the oil spill, but rather to save face.  These two groups got involved and started professing solutions before they even analyzed the problem.  And then, when real solutions presented themselves, these groups closed the doors on those opportunities because it would make their initial guesses look that more ridiculous.

On the other hand, the mine rescue did have management and government involved, but the goal from the onsite was to rescue the miners.  Government and management got engineers involved from the onset and came up with three unique plans.  Then, they initiated all three plans simultaneously.  Yes, initiating three plans at the same time meant three times the cost; and the cost of two of those plans would be completely wasted.  Compare that to the BP oil spill, where only one plan was worked on at a time.  When it failed, another was started from scratch in an effort to save money.  It wasn't until late in the process, much too late, that the engineers really got involved in the oil spill capping process.  Shortly after that, the problem was solved.

Why is God the reason for the successful rescue?
Why isn't he also blamed for the original cave in?  Why didn't got help solve the oil spill problem, or preventing it from happening in the first place?

I am a religious person and am always conflicted between my science and reasoning with that of my faith.  That's why this question is so interesting to me.  Weren't both of these disasters based on a similar root cause - a corporate culture or product flaw?  Then why is God involved in the solution of one, but not the other?  Why is God involved in the solution, but not the problem?  It seems to me that an earth-moving event would be in the realm of God.  Weren't engineers involved in creating the solution to both problems?  Didn't they come up with the ideas to drill the rescue shafts or cap and seal the well?

I don't have any answers to these questions.  I don't even have any guesses or an ability to apply logical reasoning to these.  My internal conflict between science and faith remains.

Where are the scientists?
I'll tell you where the scientists are.  Scientists discovered the oil under the Gulf.   Scientists discovered the ore under the ground.  From that point on, engineers figured out how to get at those resources.  And, engineers figured out how to resolve the crises.

Dear media, please learn the difference between a scientist and an engineer and use the proper title when referring to the two disciplines.

Is industrial exemption to blame?
Both of these incidents have sparked a resurgence of debate within the engineering profession regarding industrial exemption to licensing.  For years, governments have been changing policies to remove Professional Engineers (PEs) from positions that are designed to protect the public safety.  Why? To save money, usually.  And industry is happy to oblige because then they don't have to hire licensed engineers either.  They get away with industry exemption.

Since an oil rig is only used by the company who designed and built it, a licensed engineer is not required to be in responsible charge.  No (outside) public will ever be exposed to the oil rig and therefore it is industry exempt.
Since a mine is only used by the company digging it, a licensed engineer is not required to be in responsible charge.  No (outside) public will ever be exposed to the mine and therefore it is industry exempt.

Well, obviously, the public is exposed to an oil rig or mine.

Thousands of gallons of hydrocarbons flowing into public waters deserves to have the operation overseen by someone of suitable qualifications and ethics to maintain a safe environment.  Focus has to be not only on getting to the oil as fast and cheap as possible, but to also maintain a safe work environment and public well-being. 

A mine collapse effects not just the miners inside the mine or the ore output for the company.  A mine collapse effects the friends and families of the miners, it effects the rescuers and their families.  What if a mine collapse drastically changed the surface?  Wouldn't that effect water flow (rain or runoff)? How about nearby houses or buildings?  (Not necessarily the Chile mine, but for others this would be a concern.)  There are many aspects outside of the end product - oil or ore - that the public needs a voice.  The best way is to have a licensed professional engineer in responsible charge.  Granted, a single PE is not going to take on the liability of an entire airplane, but there should be more involvement in the process of the airplane done by someone who is not industry exempt.

1 comment:

  1. I think you should keep your believe for yourself don't go posting it on your blog. Your trolling me now....