A former BP engineer charged with destroying evidence sought for a U.S probe of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill will face a Feb. 25 trial, a judge said.
Kurt Mix, who worked on internal BP efforts to estimate the amount of oil leaking from the well, was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice for allegedly deleting text message strings from his mobile phone. Mix has pleaded not guilty.
U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval in New Orleans set the trial date at a scheduling conference with lawyers for the U.S., BP and Mix yesterday. His order was filed with the court today. The judge also directed the government to “provide all non- expert and expert” evidence to Mix by June 29.
The blowout and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 workers and started millions of barrels of crude leaking into the Gulf. The Mix prosecution is the first criminal case to arise from the 2010 spill.
The Justice Department, which began investigating the incident in June 2010, said in April it was weighing whether to file more criminal charges over the spill. The charges against Mix are likely to be followed by others, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that month.
“Kurt Mix looks forward to his day in court,” Joan McPhee, Mix’s attorney, said in a phone interview.
Alisa Finelli, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, declined to comment.
A U.S. grand jury had been investigating the spill estimates, Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Barbara O’Donnell said in a sworn statement filed April 23 in the Mix case.
“Mix deleted numerous electronic records relating to the Deepwater Horizon disaster response, including records concerning the amount of oil potentially flowing from the well, after being repeatedly informed of his obligation to maintain such records,” O’Donnell said in the statement.
Mix deleted the e-mails in October 2010 despite receiving multiple notices from London-based BP in the weeks after the spill, “which stated on the cover, in bold and underlined type, that instant messages and text messages needed to be preserved,” the U.S. said in its indictment issued May 2.
Mix brought the deletions to the attention of the government, McPhee said at his arraignment last month.
“Mr. Mix saved thousands of e-mails and hundreds of text messages,” McPhee said. The information saved includes flow rate data, work on the efforts to contain the spill, and his personal log notes, she said.
The Deepwater Horizon accident prompted hundreds of lawsuits against London-based BP; Transocean Ltd., the Vernier, Switzerland-based owner and operator of the rig; and Halliburton Co., which provided cementing services.
The U.S. government also filed a lawsuit against BP, Transocean and BP’s partners in the well, Mitsui & Co.’s MOEX Offshore 2007 and The Woodlands, Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp., alleging violations of federal pollution laws. Louisiana and Alabama sued as well. MOEX has settled the federal pollution claims.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who is overseeing these lawsuits in New Orleans, set a Jan. 14 date for a nonjury trial to determine fault for the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and resulting undersea leak.
BP agreed to pay an estimated $7.8 billion to resolve most private plaintiffs’ claims for economic loss, property damage and spill and cleanup-related injuries. The settlement, reached March 2, days before a scheduled trial on liability for the 2010 spill, doesn’t cover federal government claims and those of Gulf Coast states Louisiana and Alabama.
It also excludes claims of financial institutions, casinos, private plaintiffs in parts of Florida and Texas, and residents and businesses claiming harm from the Obama administration’s moratorium on deep-water drilling prompted by the spill.
The plaintiffs’ and government claims against BP’s contractors on the doomed Macondo well also remain.
The criminal case is U.S. v. Mix, 12-cr-0017, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans). The civil case is In re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, MDL-2179, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).