Tribune Washington Bureau (MCT)
In the first criminal charges to emerge from the federal probe of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a former engineer for BP was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of intentionally destroying evidence requested by federal authorities who were investigating the April 2010 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform.
Kurt Mix, 50, of Katy, Texas, was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice in a criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court’s Eastern District of Louisiana and unsealed Tuesday.
The charges cover actions Mix allegedly took after the April 20 explosion, during the period when BP tried its failed “top kill” effort, which entailed trying to halt the flow of oil from the blown-out Macondo well by pumping heavy mud into it.
Mix was a drilling and completions engineer for BP. According to the court documents, he worked on BP’s efforts to estimate the flow of oil from the well and on efforts to staunch the leak. BP sent Mix “numerous messages” to preserve all information and communications regarding the Macondo well, including text messages, the documents said.
On or around Oct, 4, 2010, after Mix learned that his electronic files would be collected for BP’s lawyers, he allegedly deleted from his iPhone a string of more than 200 text messages with his BP supervisor, according to the court papers.
The texts, some of which were recovered, included internal BP information from the time when the “top kill” operation was occurring, showing that the procedure was failing, according to the documents.
In one text, Mix allegedly said, “Too much flowrate — over 15,000” barrels of oil per day. That was triple the official public estimate BP was providing at the time of 5,000 barrels a day.
Another allegation centers on events on or around Aug. 19, 2011, when Mix is accused of deleting more than 100 text messages with a BP contractor with whom he was working on the rate of oil flowing from the blown-out well.
If convicted, Mix faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 per count.