Federal authorities have made the first arrest in connection with BP’s 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Kurt Mix, 50, of Katy, Texas, was arrested Tuesday night on two counts of obstruction of justice for allegedly trying to destroy evidence relating to the size of the disaster and BP’s efforts to stop the blown-out Macondo well.
Mr. Mix worked as a drilling and completions engineer for BP when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank in the waters about 50 miles south of the Louisiana coast, killing 11 workers and setting off the largest oil spill in U.S. history. He is accused of deleting about 300 text messages exchanged between him and a supervisor that, according to the U.S. Justice Department, contained “sensitive internal BP information.”
U.S. authorities have been able to recover most of the deleted texts, which were exchanged in October 2010. Some of the messages indicate that BP officials knew the spill was much larger than they publicly acknowledged. Others suggest that BP engineers knew their efforts to stop the spill with a “top kill” approach were failing, even while the company publicly expressed optimism in those operations. Mr. Mix allegedly deleted the messages after learning that his electronic files were going to be collected by a company working for BP’s defense team.
BP had “sent numerous notices to Mix requiring him to retain all information concerning Macondo” before he allegedly deleted messages, the Justice Department said.
Mr. Mix’s lawyer argues that “the content of those messages still resides in thousands of emails, text messages and other documents that he saved.”
It’s hard to say how the criminal investigations might alter the offshore drilling industry and safety regulations, if they do at all. As TodayOnline explains, “The case against Mix focuses only on the aftermath of the blast, when BP scrambled for weeks to plug the leak. Even then, the charges are not really about the disaster itself, but about an alleged attempt to thwart the investigation into it.”
The FBI stated in court papers that it continues to investigate whether BP officials intentionally understated the oil spill’s true size. Knowing the spill’s precise size in number of gallons is critical because pollution penalties under the Clean Water Act are determined on a per-gallon basis, with harsher penalties being levied if gross negligence is found to be a cause.