Some critics of the agreement between BP and the U.S. Justice Department to settle criminal charges related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill may think the oil giant got off too easy for its role in causing the disaster, but it appears the courts may not be ready to show the same kind of mercy to some of the individual BP employees implicated in the spill.
On Tuesday last week, BP drilling and completions engineer Kurt Mix appeared before a judge in Houston with his hands and feet shackled. U.S. prosecutors have charged Mr. Mix, 50, with two counts of obstruction of justice for allegedly destroying about 300 oil spill-related text messages that prosecutors consider “sensitive internal BP information.” If convicted of the charges, which do not pertain to the actual spill and its causes but to the ensuing investigation, Mr. Mix could get up to 20 years in prison and pay a $250,000 fine for each count.
Meanwhile, Donald Vidrine, a BP employee facing manslaughter charges in the deaths of the 11 rig workers killed in the Deepwater Horizon explosion, lost his appeal last week as he tries to avoid testifying in a spill-related civil case. Mr. Vidrine, a former Deepwater Horizon well site leader, has said that he has health problems that prevent him from testifying about the disaster.
Transocean, the Switzerland-based company that leased the Deepwater Horizon rig to BP for exploratory drilling, subpoenaed Mr. Vidrine and his doctor, arguing that “Mr. Vidrine’s medical issues do not provide a legal basis for his refusal to testify.”
Last year, a federal magistrate judge ordered Mr. Vidrine to undergo an evaluation by a court-appointed psychiatrist to determine if he was fit to stand trial. He appealed that order to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, but a three-judge panel threw the appeal out, saying it did not have jurisdiction to hear it.
Robert Kaluza, another BP manager who was aboard the Deepwater Horizon on the night of the deadly blowout was also charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the disaster. He and Mr. Vidrine have both pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in New Orleans.
The U.S. Justice Department has also charged David Rainey, a former BP executive, with obstruction of Congress for making false statements during federal inquiries about the amount of oil gushing from the blown-out well. Mr. Rainey has pleaded not guilty to that charge.