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The FBI announced this week that Kurt Mix, a former engineer for BP, has been arrested on charges of intentionally destroying evidence requested by federal criminal authorities investigating the April 20, 2010, BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Mix, 50, of Katy, Texas, was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice in a criminal complaint filed in the Eastern District of Louisiana.
According to Attorney General Eric Holder:
“The department has filed initial charges in its investigation into the Deepwater Horizon disaster against an individual for allegedly deleting records relating to the amount of oil flowing from the Macondo well after the explosion that led to the devastating tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico. The Deepwater Horizon Task Force is continuing its investigation into the explosion and will hold accountable those who violated the law in connection with the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.”
According to the affidavit in support of a criminal complaint and arrest warrant, on April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon rig experienced an uncontrolled blowout and related explosions while finishing the Macondo well. The catastrophe killed 11 men on board and resulted in the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.
According to court documents, Mix was a drilling and completions project engineer for BP. Following the blowout, Mix worked on internal BP efforts to estimate the amount of oil leaking from the well and was involved in various efforts to stop the leak. Those efforts included, among others, Top Kill, the failed BP effort to pump heavy mud into the blown out wellhead to try to stop the oil flow. BP sent numerous notices to Mix requiring him to retain all information concerning Macondo, including his text messages.
Court documents say that:
“On or about Oct. 4, 2010, after Mix learned that his electronic files were to be collected by a vendor working for BP’s lawyers, Mix allegedly deleted on his iPhone a text string containing more than 200 text messages with a BP supervisor. The deleted texts, some of which were recovered forensically, included sensitive internal BP information collected in real-time as the Top Kill operation was occurring, which indicated that Top Kill was failing. Among other things, Mix deleted a text he had sent on the evening of May 26, 2010, at the end of the first day of Top Kill. In the text, Mix stated, among other things, “Too much flowrate – over 15,000.” Before Top Kill commenced, Mix and other engineers had concluded internally that Top Kill was unlikely to succeed if the flow rate was greater than 15,000 barrels of oil per day (BOPD). At the time, BP’s public estimate of the flow rate was 5,000 BOPD – three times lower than the minimum flow rate indicated in Mix’s text.”
“…on or about Aug. 19, 2011, after learning that his iPhone was about to be imaged by a vendor working for BP’s outside counsel, Mix allegedly deleted a text string containing more than 100 text messages with a BP contractor with whom Mix had worked on various issues concerning how much oil was flowing from the Macondo well after the blowout. By the time Mix deleted those texts, he had received numerous legal hold notices requiring him to preserve such data and had been communicating with a criminal defense lawyer in connection with the pending grand jury investigation of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.”
If convicted, Mix faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 as to each count.
The BP oil-spill disaster continues to be controversial, because it is the basis of the Obama administration’s slowing or outright refusal to grant drilling permits in the Gulf, even after it was ordered to continue to do so by a federal judge.
Laurel Brubaker Calkins of Bloomberg.com reported last year that: “…Interior Department regulators acted with “determined disregard” by lifting and reinstituting a series of policy changes that restricted offshore drilling, following the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, U.S. District Judge, Martin Feldman of New Orleans ruled…”
“Feldman overturned the initial ban as overly broad on June 22, after the offshore-drilling industry and Gulf Coast political and business leaders challenged it. U.S. Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar said later that day that he would “issue a new order in the coming days that eliminates any doubt that a moratorium is needed, appropriate, and within our authorities.”
In July, Salazar instituted a second drilling moratorium that was also challenged by an industry lawsuit claiming the ban was harming the Gulf Coast economy, which is heavily dependent on deepwater drilling activities. That ban was rescinded in October, before Feldman could rule on its validity…Feldman later ruled that enhanced drilling safety rules Salazar imposed to permit companies to resume offshore exploration violated federal law, and he struck down those as well. Opponents of those rules complained to Feldman that regulators were continuing to block the resumption of drilling after Feldman’s rulings…“President Obama claims to have lifted the Gulf moratorium, yet not a single deepwater permit has been issued in nine months,” Jim Adams, the association’s [Offshore Marine Service Association] president, said in a release after the ruling. “As a result, thousands of workers are out of jobs, Americans are paying more for gasoline and heating oil, and our nation is becoming even more dependent on unstable nations for our energy needs.”