NEW ORLEANS — A BP engineer intentionally deleted more than 300 text messages from his iPhone that said the company's efforts to control the Gulf of Mexico oil spill were failing, and the amount of oil leaking was far more than what the company reported, the Justice Department said Tuesday.
In the first criminal charges related to the deadly explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in April 2010, the Justice Department arrested Kurt Mix and charged him with two counts of obstruction of justice for allegedly destroying evidence sought by authorities, officials announced in a statement.
The charges came a day before a federal judge in New Orleans was to consider preliminary approval of a $7.8 billion settlement between BP and a committee of plaintiffs in a civil case. Shrimp processors have raised objections, saying the settlement does not adequately compensate them.
Having an accurate flow-rate estimate is key to determining how much in civil and criminal penalties BP and the other companies drilling the Macondo will face under the Clean Water Act. In an emailed statement, BP said it will not comment on the case but is cooperating with the Justice Department.
No longer works at BP
Mix, 50, of Katy, Texas, appeared before a judge in Houston and was released on $100,000 bail. Mix, who no longer works for BP, said very little during the hearing, answering routine questions about the charges. His attorney declined to comment after the hearing. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on each count.
On the first day BP began to use the “top kill” method to plug the leaking well, Mix estimated in a text to his supervisor that 15,000 barrels of oil per day were spilling — an amount greater than what BP said the method could likely handle.
The BP-leased rig Deepwater Horizon exploded the night of April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and setting off the nation's worst offshore oil disaster. More than 200 million gallons of crude oil flowed out of the well off the Louis