Just over two years after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon resulted in the worst oil spill in world history, the federal government has filed its first criminal charges against a BP employee. Multiple news outlets report that a former BP engineer has been arrested and charged with intentionally destroying evidence about the Gulf oil spill, even after being notified that he was legally obligated to preserve it.
According to a Department of Justice statement released Tuesday, Kurt Mix was charged with two counts of obstructing justice for allegedly deleting 200-plus text messages about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill sent between he and a BP supervisor in the summer of 2010. CNN reports that at least one message confirms that the undersea gusher was far worse than reported at the time.
Mix was a drilling and completions project engineer for BP. Following the blowout, he 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.
According to the DOJ statement, on or about Oct. 4, 2010, after learning 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.
In a statement issued Tuesday, BP said it was cooperating with Justice Department and other investigations into the spill, which lasted nearly three months. The company had no comment on the allegations against Mix but said it “had clear policies requiring preservation of evidence in this case and has undertaken substantial and ongoing efforts to preserve evidence.”
The Justice Department says if Mix is convicted of the charges he faces a maximum penalty of 20 yeas in jail and a $250,000 fine for each of the two counts of obstruction of justice.
The news that someone has finally been arrested for the tragic Gulf oil spill comes as a great relief to those that have called for criminal charges for over two years. Although government investigations attribute the spill to BP’s “lack of a safety culture,” this is the first time that someone has faced jail time for the accident, which took the lives of 11 rig workers, contaminated coastlines in multiple states, and has been linked to the deaths or deformation of countless marine animals.
Mix’ is arrest is a good start, but it’s not nearly enough. No doubt BP hopes sacrificing a few low level employees will allow it to avoid paying the full price for its crimes. We can only hope that this arrest will be the first of many, and that the DOJ will pursue its case until those truly in charge are brought to justice.
Image via NASA/Flickr