A former BP engineer accused of intentionally deleting hundreds of text messages about the size of the spil is the first person to face criminal charges since the Deepwater Horizon accident.
Kurt Mix, 50, was arrested earlier Tuesday and was set to appear in federal court in Houston, Texas, later in the day on two charges of obstruction of justice.
“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,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.
“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,” he added.
In the complaint, Mix is accused of deleting text messages on two occasions “after being repeatedly informed of his obligation to maintain such records.” Most of those messages were later retrieved, the Justice Department said.
In one thread, Mix allegedly deleted a string of some 200 messages that had to do with a process dubbed “Top Kill” that was aimed at stopping the spill.
“Too much flowrate — over 15,000” barrels of oil per day, Mix allegedly said in one text.
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“At the time,” the Justice Department noted, “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.”
Moreover, BP “continued publicly to state that Top Kill was broadly proceeding according to plan,” the complaint says.
“Before Top Kill commenced,” the department added, “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.”