Do You Take Ethics For Granted?

Last month I had the pleasure to hear DPA President Dan Tearpock’s ethics talk to the Houston Geological Society.

You may not think a talk on ethics would draw a big crowd, but Dan is a terrific speaker, and those of us who are licensed in Texas are required to have an hour of ethics in the required 15 hours of professional development (continuing education) annually.

The place was packed.


Some of Dan’s comments caused me to reflect on some of the events of my career. It is my contention that everyone will say when asked that they have above average intelligence, are an above average driver and have above average moral and ethical character. And as professional geologists, most of us would not seriously consider that we might have ever committed an unethical act, even inadvertently.

But one of the facets of ethical conduct that is most commonly violated is the requirement of confidentiality – and as Dan pointed out, it is often an inadvertent act.

How many times have we met an old friend or colleague at an icebreaker or a society meeting and have been asked what projects we were working on? If we are excited about a current project, we can tend to be effusive when we talk about it.

At what point have we said too much and potentially compromised our employer’s proprietary position?

Even if your friend did not act on what was said, can the same be said about the person standing behind you who overheard your conversation?

The same thing can apply to a conversation with a team member regarding a confidential project in the elevator of your office building or over lunch. You and your teammate are perfectly trustworthy, but can the same be said for the others in the elevator – or those seated at the next table?

I would like to say with certainty that this has never happened to me; I do not think it has. But can anyone be absolutely certain?

When we joined AAPG, we agreed to abide by the AAPG Code of Ethics, but I would expect that many of us have never read it. If you have never read it or simply wish to revisit it, please visit the code of ethics page on the AAPG website.

Ethical conduct is a significant part of being a professional of any discipline. Yet, it is not something that occupies our daily thoughts. We take it as a given within ourselves and we expect it from our colleagues.


I am certainly not the first AAPG president to write about the ethical requirements of the profession in this column, and I do not expect to be the last. The following thoughts of three of my esteemed predecessors are worth repeating:

♦“Ethics has quickly become today’s most critical business and professional concern. Look around. It seems as though for every organization or individual receiving an ethical award, there’s another being charged with some type of impropriety. And this has led more than a few to conclude that we are in the middle of an ethics crisis.”

– Dan Smith, January 2003

♦“All of us have or will eventually encounter an ethical dilemma in the workplace or in private life. Some situations are clear-cut and others fall into the gray zone (between right and wrong or good and bad). The ‘code that you live by’ guides you through many issues. That code is most likely a combination of your parents’ attitudes, religious beliefs and life experience. For those situations that fall into the gray zone, you may also want to have a trusted group of friends (your ‘kitchen cabinet’) to bounce ideas off.”

– Steve Sonnenberg, April 2004

♦“Professionals in our society have responsibilities, most having to do with ethical obligations to their clients, society and colleagues. Professionalism requires capability beyond mere competence, and the willingness to be accountable. The basic fabric of modern society – commerce, research, communications, services – rests upon the expectation of ethical behavior.”

– Pete Rose, July 2005

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President's Column - David G. Rensink

David G. Rensink, AAPG President (2010-11), is a consultant out of Houston. He retired from Apache Corp in 2009.

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