Fire boats battle flames on an offshore rig in April 2010. (Credit: U.S. Coast Guard/Getty Images)
According to the U.S. Justice Department, a BP engineer intentionally deleted more than 300 text messages that described how much oil was flowing into the Gulf of Mexico after the deadly explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig. In the deleted messages, the amount of oil that was indicated was much greater than what the company later reported. The text messages also pointed to problems with the containment of the spill.
Kurt Mix of Katy was arrested Tuesday and charged with two counts of obstruction of justice for allegedly destroying evidence sought by federal investigators.
The charges came a day before a federal judge in New Orleans was to consider a motion that would grant preliminary approval of a $7.8 billion civil settlement between BP and a committee of plaintiffs. Shrimp processors have expressed their discontent and argued that the settlement does not adequately make up for the damages they suffered.
Criminal penalties that could be levied against BP and its partners in the operation would be based in part on estimates of the amount of oil that spilled into the gulf.
In an emailed statement, BP said it would not comment on the case but is cooperating with the Justice Department and other investigations into the oil spill. “BP had clear policies requiring preservation of evidence in this case and has undertaken substantial and ongoing efforts to preserve evidence,” the statement said.
If convicted, Mix, 50, he faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on each of two counts.
The engineer deleted more than 200 messages on his iPhone after they were sent to a BP supervisor in October 2010 containing information about how much oil was spilling. According to a news release, he erased 100 more messages in 2011, in spite of receiving numerous legal notices to preserve the information.
The BP-leased rig Deepwater Horizon exploded the night of April 20, 2010. Eleven workers were killed and the explosion culminated in the nation’s worst offshore oil disaster. More than 200 million gallons of crude oil flowed out of the well off the Louisiana coast before it was contained.