Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. has agreed to plead guilty to destroying evidence that could have helped investigators understand the company’s role in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which killed 11 workers and set off the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, Halliburton will pay the maximum statutory fine of $200,000 under the plea agreement, which will also put the company on three years of probation. Halliburton has also agreed to cooperate with the U.S. government’s ongoing criminal investigation of the spill.
In what the DOJ says is a “separate” arrangement, Halliburton will also make a “voluntary” contribution of $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
The criminal charge against Halliburton stems from the internal investigation it conducted after BP’s Macondo well blew out. In early May, 2010, Halliburton established a team to analyze the well structure, which it designed and built under contract for BP.
Much of the investigation focused on the number of centralizers – protruding metal collars affixed at various intervals outside the well casing – used in the Macondo well. Centralizers significantly affect the quality of cementing around the bottom of the well casing. Halliburton recommended that BP use 21 centralizers in the Macondo well, but BP instead opted to use just six.
In May 2010, Halliburton and its Cementing Technology Director ordered a cementing program manager to run two computer simulations of the Macondo well’s cementing job to compare the difference between the well built with six centralizers versus a well built with 21 centralizers. The program manager was then directed to destroy the results.
The following month, Halliburton’s Cementing Technology Director had another, more experienced, engineer run the same comparative tests. Like the program manager before him, that analyst reached the same conclusion. The results of those tests were also destroyed.
The Deepwater Horizon Task Force, a group of federal investigators probing the BP oil spill disaster, was unable to forensically recover the computer simulations.
In agreeing to plead guilty, Halliburton has accepted the criminal responsibility for destroying the evidence the computer models would have presented.
Halliburton and BP have blamed each other for the cementing job that failed to properly seal the Macondo well, allowing oil and gas to blast up through the riser pipe to the surface. The blown-out well continued to gush oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 3 months before it was successfully plugged.