BP: Halliburton’s expected guilty plea undermines Gulf spill arguments

BP said Tuesday that Halliburton’s admission  it destroyed evidence after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill undermines key claims by the U.S. government in a civil trial over the disaster.

In papers filed in federal court in New Orleans, the British oil giant said that Halliburton’s criminal plea agreement shows the extent of the oil field services firm’s efforts to hide the truth about what caused the disaster. BP says the conduct has resulted in “prejudice to the court, BP, and the other parties.”

Halliburton will plead guilty Sept. 19  to a misdemeanor charge of destroying evidence related to the spill, pay a $200,000 fine and serve three years of probation. Separately, Halliburton made a voluntary contribution of $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation that was not conditioned on the court’s acceptance of its plea agreement.

As U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier weighs whether Halliburton, Transocean and BP were grossly negligent in connection with the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, BP says he should consider the impact of Halliburton’s admission in its guilty plea.

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Federal prosecutors say that after the well blowout, Halliburton established an internal working group to examine the Macondo well disaster, including whether the number of centralizers used on the final production casing could have contributed to the blowout.

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.

Halliburton had recommended to BP the use of 21 centralizers in the Macondo well.  BP chose six centralizers instead.

Prosecutors say that the month after the blowout, a Halliburton official directed a senior program manager to run two computer simulations of the Macondo well final cementing job. The simulations indicated that there was little difference between using six and 21 centralizers.  The program manager was directed to, and did, destroy the results, the Justice Department said.

The allegation is noteworthy because Halliburton and the U.S. government have long publicly argued that since BP didn’t follow Halliburton’s advice on the number of centralizers the cement didn’t hold and that BP should be liable for the disaster.

In its court filing Tuesday, BP said that argument is rendered baseless by Halliburton’s admission and the government’s acceptance of that admission.

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The plea agreement refutes “the litigation positions taken by the government and Halliburton in this proceeding,” BP said.

BP has long argued that Halliburton destroyed key evidence after the disaster. Earlier this year during the first phase of the civil trial meant to assign blame for the disaster, a former Halliburton official testified that a company official asked him not to record results of a cement stability test related to the blown-out well that he conducted after the spill. He complied with the request.

Halliburton did not specifically admit to destroying that evidence in its agreement to plead guilty, but the government’s push to hold Halliburton accountable picked up steam in the months that followed the testimony.

Barbier has not said when he will rule on the gross negligence issue. The second phase of the civil trial, which will address the amount of oil that spilled, is set to begin Sept. 30.