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Former BP engineer found guilty of obstruction during Macondo investigation

20 December 2013

On December 18, former drilling and completions project engineer Kurt Mix was found guilty of obstruction of justice for deleting messages during a US federal investigation into the destruction of the Deepwater Horizon rig and Macondo well blowout.

The 2010 incident killed 11 on the rig and caused a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Mix is the first of four current or former BP employees to be tried and convicted on charges crelated to the well blowout. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of $250,000.

The jury found that Mix destroyed evidence when he deleted voice and text communications between himself and a supervisor and a BP contractor. He was acquitted on a second obstruction count.

Prosecutors argued that some of the more than 200 deleted messages suggested that company officials knew that an effort to stop the leak in the early days of the 2010 spill — a procedure known as a top kill — would most likely fail, largely because of the overwhelming amount of oil flowing out of the stricken well.

The flow rate is important because it helps determine fines under the Clean Water Act, and it remains a bone of contention in litigation. A separate federal court in New Orleans will determine what Clean Water Act penalties BP will face, depending on the amount of oil that was spilled and whether the company acted with gross negligence or merely negligence.

According to prosecutors, Mix deleted a string of messages in October 2010 despite notices from BP that he and others must retain all information about the well. In one of his text messages during the top-kill effort, Mr. Mix estimated that more than 630,000 gallons of oil were spilling daily, three times BP’s estimate in public statements.

Defence lawyers said that he had not tried to destroy evidence as other surviving records contained the same information, and said they would appeal the verdict.

This case was not part of the agreement between BP and the Justice Department last year in which the company pleaded guilty to 14 criminal charges and agreed to pay $4 billion in penalties for the Macondo oil well blowout, which fouled hundreds of miles of the Gulf of Mexico shoreline.

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