Feds: BP had ‘numerous motives’ to conceal Gulf spill flow rate

Federal prosecutors say BP and its employees had “numerous motives” to hide from investigators and the American public the true amount of oil that was flowing from its blown-out undersea well following the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster.

The statements were made in a filing Thursday in federal court in New Orleans in the case of Kurt Mix, the former BP engineer charged with obstructing the grand jury investigation by deleting text messages about the flow rate.

“Disclosing the true nature and extent of the Macondo well disaster would have invited greater scrutiny from members of Congress who were evaluating the efficacy of BP’s well relief efforts and would have further negatively impacted the company’s stock price,” prosecutors wrote.

For weeks after the April 20, 2010, deepwater blowout off Louisiana, BP officials continued to maintain in public and private meetings with government officials that its best estimate of the flow rate was 5,000 barrels of oil per day. According to subsequent government estimates, the actual rate was more than 10 times higher.

The government has estimated that some 4.9 million barrels of oil, or 206 million gallons, spewed from the well before BP was able to cap it. Eleven rig workers were killed when gas from the well caused an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

According to the filing, a key contention that underpins Mix’s defense is that he had no motive to delete flow rate-related evidence because he and others at BP were freely sharing such information with the government. Mix is seeking certain documents from the government to bolster his case.

Prosecutors challenged that assertion in their filing, and they said BP’s recent plea agreement to settle criminal charges against the company backs up their position.

“As BP publicly acknowledged on Nov. 15, BP was not freely and openly sharing information about flow rate outside the company,” prosecutors said. “The obstruction charge was predicated on BP’s concealment from Congress of crucial flow-rate information that the company possessed and that contradicted the company’s numerous public statements that 5,000 barrels of oil per day was the most accurate estimate of how much oil was leaking from the Macondo well.”

But Mix, in a court filing by his attorneys on Thursday, argues that BP’s plea agreement actually exonerates him.

The defense filing says that among the documents that the government identifies in the BP criminal complaint as conclusive proof that BP was misleading the public and Congress regarding the Macondo well’s flow rate “are the very documents that Mix created, preserved, and then handed over to BP’s third-party vendor for delivery to” the Department of Justice.

“In light of this, it is impossible to understand how the government can continue to claim that Mix sought to obstruct its criminal investigation into whether BP had engaged in such misrepresentations,” Mix’s lawyers argue.

Mix, of Katy, has pleaded not guilty to obstruction charges and is currently scheduled for trial Feb. 25.

On Wednesday, two BP well-site leaders and a former executive were arraigned on criminal charges stemming from the disaster. They entered not guilty pleas. BP, meanwhile, plans to plead guilty at a later date to felony charges under an agreement with the Justice Department that calls for it to pay a $4 billion criminal penalty and $525 million to settle related Securities and Exchange Commission violations. A federal judge must approve the deal.