NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Some of the text messages that a former BP drilling engineer deleted from his cellphone contained information that could have been evidence in the Justice Department's investigation of the company's 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, an FBI agent testified Wednesday at the engineer's trial on obstruction of justice charges.
Investigators recovered a string of deleted text messages that Kurt Mix had sent to a supervisor while he worked on a team of experts who were trying to seal BP's blown-out Macondo well. Special Agent Kelly Bryson, the first witness at Mix's trial, said some of those messages helped show what BP engineers knew at the time about the amount of oil gushing out of the well.
Mix deleted from his iPhone a string of 331 text messages to the supervisor, Jonathan Sprague, in October 2010 and another string of 182 messages to BP contractor Wilson Arabie in August 2011.
"I would have presented those to the grand jury," said Bryson, who served on a task force that the Justice Department formed after the blowout triggered an explosion that killed 11 workers and spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf.
During cross-examination by one of Mix's attorneys, Bryson acknowledged that investigators received many emails and other documents that Mix had saved on his laptop. Mix's lawyers say their client preserved and turned over records containing the same information that he is accused of trying to conceal from the grand jury.
Bryson said the FBI's probe focused on "what was known publicly and what was known privately" inside BP in the weeks after the blowout. Information about oil flow rates was "absolutely crucial" to the investigation, she added.
Mix worked on BP's unsuccessful effort to halt the spill using a technique called "top kill" and had access to internal data about the rate that oil was flowing from the well. On May 26, 2010, the day the top kill attempt began, Mix estimated in a text to a supervisor that more than 630,000 gallons of oil per day were spilling — three times BP's public estimate of 210,000 gallons daily and a rate far greater than what the company said a top kill could handle.