The federal government has finally filed criminal charges against BP for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion that led to the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
Kurt Mix, a former engineer for BP, was arrested today on charges of intentionally destroying evidence requested by authorities investigating the April 20, 2010 disaster, announced Attorney General Eric Holder.
Mix, 50, has been charged with two counts of obstruction of justice in a criminal complaint filed in the Eastern District of Louisiana and unsealed today.
“The department has filed initial charges in its investigation into the Deepwater Horizon disaster against an individual for allegedly deleting records relating to the amount of oil flowing from the Macondo well after the explosion that led to the devastating tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Attorney General Holder. “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 US history.”
According to the affidavit, on April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon experienced an uncontrolled blowout while finishing the Macondo well. The catastrophe killed 11 men on board the vessel and created the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.
According to court documents, Mix was a drilling and completions project engineer for BP. After the 2010 blowout, Mix worked on internal BP efforts to estimate the amount of oil leaking from the well and was involved in various efforts to stop the leak. Those efforts included, among others, Top Kill, the failed BP attempt to pump mud into the blown out well to try to stop the flow of oil. BP sent numerous communications to Mix ordering him to keep all communications regarding Macondo, including his text messages.
On or about October 4, 2010, after Mix learned that his electronic communications were to be collected by a vendor working for BP’s lawyers, Mix allegedly deleted an iPhone text messaging string containing over 200 text messages with a BP supervisor. The deleted texts included sensitive internal BP data collected in real-time as the Top Kill operation was occurring, which indicated that the Top Kill effort was failing.
Court documents allege that Mix deleted a text he sent on the evening of May 26, 2010, at the end of the first day of Top Kill. In that text message, Mix stated, “Too much flowrate — over 15,000.”
Before Top Kill began, Mix had already concluded that Top Kill was unlikely to succeed if the flow rate was greater than 15,000 barrels of oil per day (BOPD). At the time, BP’s estimate of the flow rate was 5,000 BOPD…three times lower than the minimum flow rate indicated in Mix’s text.
On or around August 19, 2011, after learning that his iPhone was about to be imaged by a vendor, Mix allegedly deleted a text string containing over 100 text messages with a BP contractor with whom Mix had worked on various issues concerning how much oil was really flowing out of the Macondo well following the blowout.
By the time Mix deleted those texts, he had received several legal hold notices ordering him to keep such data and had been communicating with a criminal defense lawyer in connection with the pending grand jury investigation.
If convicted, Kurt Mix faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each count.
BP paid out $7.8 million as part of a settlement over the Deepwater Horizon disaster in March.
You can read today’s full press release regarding the criminal charges filed by the Department of Justice here.
- How Much Should BP Pay? (cleantechies.com)
- The BP Oil Spill And Deepwater Horizon Explosion: Two Years Later [Bp Oil Spill] (jalopnik.com)
- Two Years Later, BP Spill Reminders Litter Gulf Coast (npr.org)