NEW ORLEANS - (Mealey's) The U.S. Department of Justice on April 24 announced that a former engineer for BP PLC was arrested for two counts of obstructing justice in the criminal investigation of the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico for deleting text messages regarding the amount of oil flowing from the Macondo well following the accident (United States of America v. Kurt E. Mix, No. 12-47-MAG, E.D. La.).
(Complaint. Document #08-120511-002C. Mix affidavit. Document #08-120511-003X.)
Top Kill Messages
The agency stated in a press release that Kurt Mix of Katy, Texas, was a drilling and completions project engineer for BP and that he worked on internal company efforts to estimate the amount of oil leaking from the well. Mix was also involved in various efforts to help stop the leak, including Top Kill, in which BP unsuccessfully attempted to pump heavy mud into the blown-out wellhead to try to stop the flow of oil. The Justice Department acknowledged that BP informed Mix that he was to retain all information concerning oil flow from the Macondo well, including his text messages.
According the agency's press release, Mix deleted more than 200 text messages from his phone on or about Oct. 4, 2010, after learning that his electronic files were being collected by a vendor working for BP. Some of the texts were recovered forensically and included communications exchanged between Mix and other BP employees during the Top Kill operation that indicated that the effort was failing.
In one of the text messages that was recovered, Mix stated that roughly 15,000 barrels of oil per day (BOPD) were leaking from the Macondo well and that he and other BP employees knew that Top Kill would not be successful if the flow rate was that high. The Justice Department pointed out that BP estimated that the flow rate was 5,000 BOPD.
Mix also deleted more than 100 text messages on or about Aug. 19, 2011, after learning that his phone was about to be imaged by a vendor hired by BP's outside counsel, the Justice Department stated. Those messages included communications Mix had with a BP contractor with whom Mix worked on various issues stemming from the amount of oil flowing from the Macondo well.
The criminal complaint was filed April 23 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. If convicted, Mix could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each count.
Derek Cohen and Avi Gesser of the Department of Justice in Washington, Richard Pickens II of U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans and Scott Cullen of the U.S. Attorney's Office for Eastern District of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia are prosecuting the case.
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