The spill that occurred at BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico following a blast at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20, 2010 was the worst in US history. The blast killed 11 workers and spewed almost 5 million barrels of oil into waters off the southern U.S. Gulf coast over a nearly three-month period.
The effects of the gulf oil spill are still being felt today, even though TransOcean, the company that leased the Deepwater Horizon rig to BP, has already admitted criminal and civil violations and settled with the federal government to the tune of $1.4 billion. BP has also pled guilty and agreed to pay $4.5 billion in fines and penalties.
And now Halliburton, the third major player, responsible for pouring the cement while the Macondo well was drilled, has agreed to plead guilty to criminally destroying evidence in the investigation of the BP Gulf oil spill, and to pay the maximum fine. The Justice Department said Halliburton ordered the destruction of computer simulations and other evidence linked to the probe into the accident.
Maximum Fine Is $200,000
But wait, the maximum fine is $200,000? That’s like me or you paying 50 cents, or a dollar.
It’s true that Halliburton has already made a $55 million voluntary contribution to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, but still, $200,000? Huffington Post estimates that it will take Halliburton just 23 seconds to earn this sum.
As an oil services company, Halliburton “was responsible for conducting the cement job” according to the final investigation into the disaster. BP and Halliburton had a disagreement over how many centralizers to use on the well. After the accident, Halliburton tried to find out what happened, according the the Justice Department press release:
On or about May 3, 2010, Halliburton established an internal working group to examine the Macondo well blowout, including whether the number of centralizers used on the final production casing could have contributed to the blowout. A production casing is a long, heavy metal pipe set across the area of the oil and natural gas reservoir. Centralizers are protruding metal collars affixed at various intervals on the outside of the casing. Use of centralizers can help keep the casing centered in the wellbore away from the surrounding walls as it is lowered and placed in the well. Centralization can be significant to the quality of subsequent cementing around the bottom of the casing. Prior to the blowout, Halliburton had recommended to BP the use of 21 centralizers in the Macondo well. BP opted to use six centralizers instead.
That same month, Halliburton did some sophisticated 3D simulations of the final cementing job, using 6 and then 21 centralizers; these found that there was little difference between the two scenarios, suggesting that Halliburton’s recommendation to BP that the well should have 21 centralizers instead of 6 was irrelevant.
The Senior Program Manager who conducted the simulations was directed to destroy the results. The same simulations were run a month later, and again the person who conducted them was instructed to get rid of the results.
Obviously Halliburton’s intent was to escape culpability in this case by showing that they had wanted 21 centralizers instead of 6. The fact that research proved that the number of centralizers was irrelevant got in the way, so Halliburton wanted that evidence destroyed.
Thus, in 2011, BP filed court papers that accused Halliburton of having “intentionally destroyed evidence” related to the explosion aboard the rig.
Civil Trial Still To Come
Halliburton, along with other firms, is also facing a civil trial over the oil spill.
This is expected to be one of the biggest and costliest trials in decades and will determine the causes of the spill. It will also hold responsible the parties involved, including Halliburton, BP, Transocean, and Cameron, which manufactured the blowout preventor meant to stop oil leaks.
And a side-note: in June, BP decided to stop sending crews to Gulf Coast beaches. Could that be because tar balls continue to wash ashore?
Photo Credit: ErnestDuffoo