Ex-BP Worker Accused of Destroying 2010 Gulf Spill Texts
Published: Apr 24, 2012
By Margaret Cronin Fisk - Apr 24, 2012
A former BP Plc (BP/) engineer was arrested on charges of intentionally destroying evidence requested by the U.S. about the size of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, in the first criminal case arising from the incident.
The U.S. said Kurt Mix, who worked on internal BP efforts to estimate the amount of oil leaking from the well, deleted text messages between him and a supervisor. Mix, 50, was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice in a criminal complaint filed in federal court in New Orleans and unsealed today.
“Mix deleted numerous electronic records relating to the Deepwater Horizon disaster response, including records concerning the amount of oil potentially flowing from the well, after being repeatedly informed of his obligation to maintain such records,” FBI Special Agent Barbara O’Donnell said in a sworn statement filed in the case.
The blowout and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 workers and caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The Justice Department has been investigating the incident and the spill-rate estimates, O’Donnell said in her affidavit. A federal grand jury had been investigating the spill estimates, she said.
“The Deepwater Horizon Task Force is continuing its investigation into the explosion and will hold accountable those who violated the law in connection with the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement today.
BP declined to comment on the case against Mix and said it would continue to cooperate with the U.S. investigation.
“BP had clear policies requiring preservation of evidence in this case and has undertaken substantial and ongoing efforts to preserve evidence,” the London-based company said in a statement today.
Mix surrendered to authorities today, his lawyer, David Gerger, said before a hearing today in Houston. Mix resigned from BP in January 2012, according to O’Donnell.
David Uhlmann, a former head of the Justice Department’s environmental crimes section, said it wasn’t surprising that the U.S. would pursue a case concerning the deletion of information about the spill.
‘Testimony Against Others’
“The fact that the government announced the first charges in the BP case against a relatively low-level employee may suggest they intend to enter into a plea agreement with Mr. Mix in return for his testimony against others,” said Uhlmann, a law professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Mix was involved in BP’s efforts to stop the flow of oil after the explosions, according to O’Donnell, the FBI agent. On May 18, 2010, BP employees including Mix and his supervisor concluded that one method, called Top Kill, might work if the oil was flowing at a rate of about 5,000 barrels of oil per day, or BOPD, she said.
“BP’s internal data suggested that Top Kill was unlikely to succeed if the oil flow rate was 15,000 BOPD or more,” she said.
Mix texted a supervisor on May 26, 2010, that the flow rate was too high, O’Donnell said.
“Over 15,000 and too large an orifice,” Mix said, according to the U.S. Mix later deleted this text, O’Donnell said.
Two days later, “BP continued publicly to state that Top Kill was broadly proceeding according to plan.” The company abandoned Top Kill on May 29, 2010, and publicly announced the failure, the U.S. said. “BP’s stock price dropped approximately 15 percent on the next trading day,” O’Donnell said.
Investors suing BP over the loss of share value from the 2010 oil spill have claimed that the company underestimated the extent of the oil spilled to bolster the stock price. A federal judge in Houston in February denied the company’s request to dismiss the claims brought by holders of BP American depositary receipts.
The accident prompted hundreds of lawsuits against BP as well as Transocean Ltd. (RIG), the Vernier, Switzerland-based owner and operator of the rig, and Houston-based Halliburton Co. (HAL), which provided cementing services.
The U.S. also sued BP, Transocean and BP’s partners in the well, Mitsui & Co. (8031)’s MOEX Offshore 2007 and The Woodlands, Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (APC), alleging violations of federal pollution laws. Louisiana and Alabama sued as well. MOEX has settled the federal lawsuit.
BP in March agreed to pay an estimated $7.8 billion to resolve private plaintiffs’ claims for economic loss, property damage and injuries. The settlement, reached March 2, days before a scheduled trial on liability for the spill, doesn’t cover federal government claims and those of the Gulf Coast states Louisiana and Mississippi.
Also excluded are claims of financial institutions, casinos, private plaintiffs in parts of Florida and Texas, and residents and businesses claiming harm from the Obama administration’s moratorium on deep-water drilling prompted by the spill.
To contact the reporter on this story: Margaret Cronin Fisk in Detroit at email@example.com