Former BP Engineer Accused of Destroying Evidence

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Former BP (NYSE:BP) senior engineer Kurt Mix has been accused of deliberately destroying evidence related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Mix was accused of two counts obstruction of justice for deleting text messages and voice mails related to the flow rate of oil spilling into the gulf between April and July 2010.

The issue, ostensibly, is this: Kurt Mix was one of the engineers involved in an operation called top kill, which was an attempt to cap the well made at the end of May. The operation involved pumping fluids, mud, and waste materials into the broken well in an attempt to block it up and stop the leak. The top kill operation only had a chance of succeeding if the flow rate was below a certain threshold, but at the time it appeared as if there was no clear idea of how fast oil was actually gushing out of the well.

That threshold was 15,000 barrels per day, well above the 1,000 to 5,000 bpd estimate that BP initially made public. However, the actual flow rate was much higher — up to 62,000 bpd — and Mix knew this, stating as much in one of the text messages that was deleted and subsequently recovered by federal prosecutors.

When Mix deleted the messages, he violated a government request that BP employees save all communications related to the incident. Prosecution has argued that Mix intentionally deleted the messages hoping that it would obscure the apparent fact that he knew top kill wouldn’t work, and that BP had understated the flow rate to the public.

The defense has argued that there was nothing malicious about Mix’s deletion of the messages, and that his flow rate estimates were made available to the government and were shared with a number of agencies. Mix is also accused of deleting a text message string in 2011 following a subpoena for Mix’s correspondence.

“Criminal investigations simply cannot work if people are allowed to do what Kurt Mix did,” said Justice Department prosecutor Leo Tsao during closing arguments at a trial held Monday. As a company, BP is pretty sheltered from the outcome of this trial specifically. The company has already settled many of the claims against it, and the criminal charges against Mix don’t appear to carry any penalties for the company.

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