Former BP engineer charged in Deepwater Horizon cover-up
A former BP engineer was arrested yesterday for allegedly trying to cover up what the company knew about the true extent of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
Kurt Mix is the first current or former BP employee arrested in connection with the April 20, 2010 explosion that killed 11 men and led to one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.
“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 Eric 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 U.S. history.”
Mix, who resigned in January as BP’s Drillings and Completions Project Engineer, was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines for each count.
Mix was one of the lead engineers involved in BP’s efforts to contain the oil spill, including the infamous failed Top Kill attempt to cap the Macondo well by pumping heavy mud and then sealing the well with cement. More than 5 million barrels of oil gushed out of the Macondo well before it was successfully sealed 3 months later.
Federal investigators accused Mix of intentionally deleting hundreds of messages that showed the “real-time flow-rate analysis…indicating that Top Kill was not working, contrary to BP’s public statements at that time.”
Prior to attempting Top Kill, the government claimed BP’s internal data showed that the procedure would likely fail if the flow rate exceeded 15,000 barrels of oil per day (BOPD) and had the best chance for success if the flow rate was below 5,000 barrels of oil per day.
However, the day after the explosion and 5 weeks before Top Kill was attempted, investigators said Mix sent his supervisor the flow rate estimate of 64,000 to 138,000 barrels of oil per day. Based on Mix’s data, it appeared that Top Kill was not going to work despite BP’s repeated reassurances to the public.
Indeed, on the first day of the Top Kill attempt on May 26, 2010, Mix sent this text message, which he later allegedly deleted, to his supervisor:
“Too much flowrate – over 15,000 and too large an orifice. Pumped over 12,000 bbl of mud today plus 5 separate bridging pills. Tired. Going home and getting ready for round three tomorrow.”
Even 2 days later, BP officials continued to publicly claim that Top Kill was “proceeding according to plan.” However, BP was forced to admit that the Top Kill attempt had failed on May 29, and the company’s stock tumbled by 15% the next day.
Although Mix was notified within days after the explosion that all records were to be retained, he allegedly deleted his messages as federal investigators began looking into the cause of the explosion and BP’s response to the oil spill.
BP issued this following statement in response to the charges:
“BP is cooperating with the Department of Justice and other official investigations into the Deepwater Horizon accident and oil spill. BP had clear policies requiring preservation of evidence in this case and has undertaken substantial and ongoing efforts to preserve evidence. We will not comment on the Government’s case against former BP employee Kurt Mix and we will continue cooperating in the Department of Justice’s investigation.”
The Deepwater Horizon disaster has cost BP more than $14 billion as of December 2011. The incident has also spawned a series of lawsuits against BP and other companies involved. In March, BP announced a $7.8 billion settlement to resolve a “substantial majority” of claims by businesses and individuals who have suffered economic losses and medical conditions as a result of the oil spill. The settlement does not resolve federal, state, and local civil suits against the company.
- Department of Justice: Criminal complaint against Kurt Mix (PDF)
- Department of Justice: FBI affidavit against Kurt Mix (PDF)
- BP.com: BP Statement on Criminal Complaint Against Former Employee
- BP.com: BP announces settlement with PSC, subject to final written agreement, to resolve economic loss and medical claims from Deepwater Horizon accident and oil spill
- BP.com: Deepwater Horizon accident
- WhiteHouse.gov: BP oil spill
- WhiteHouse.gov: Statement by President Obama Marking the One-Year Anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill