Just over two years ago, an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig operated by BP killed 11 crew members and sparked the worst oil spill in US history. The accident released almost 5 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico and caused irreparable damage to marine and wildlife habitats, but no criminal charges had been filed — until now. NPR reports that the first criminal charges in connection with the spill have been filed against former BP engineer Kurt Mix, who has been arrested for obstruction of justice for deleting text messages after the spill.
Mix was a project engineer for BP who was involved in efforts to stop the leak. He was also given the task of estimating the amount of oil leaking from the well after the blowout occurred. While BP was attempting to stop the leak, Mix was instructed to keep all information regarding the well, including his text messages, according to a Justice Department press release. In October 2010, when Mix was told that all of his electronic correspondences were to be handed over to BP’s lawyers, he allegedly deleted a string of more than 200 text messages with a BP supervisor.
What did the deleted texts say? According to the DoJ release, some of the texts, which were recovered forensically, revealed that the Top Kill operation was failing. In one text, which was sent on May 26, 2010, Mix wrote, “Too much flowrate – over 15,000,” while at that time BP’s public flow rate estimate was 5,000 just barrels of oil per day. If he is convicted, Mix will face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each charge.
Since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP has fared quite well. In March, BP proposed a $7.8 billion settlement with people and businesses hurt by the disaster. It currently has five rigs drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, making it one of the most active drillers in the region. However, a law enforcement official tells NPR that more charges are to come.