DOJ files first criminal charges in connection with BP oil spill

The Justice Department on Tuesday filed the first criminal charges in connection with the massive 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Kurt Mix, a former BP engineer, was arrested Tuesday and charged with two counts of obstruction of justice for allegedly destroying evidence requested by federal authorities investigating the spill, the Justice Department said.

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Mix allegedly deleted 200 text messages in 2010 that, among other things, indicated that an initial method used by BP to stop the Macondo well from spewing oil was not working. The text messages also indicated that the well was leaking three times the amount that BP had publicly estimated.

In addition, the Justice Department said Mix allegedly deleted 100 text messages in 2011 with a BP contractor after being told to preserve all communications.

Mix faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count if convicted, the Justice Department said.

“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 that led to the devastating tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico,” 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.”

BP declined to comment on the charges against Mix but said the company has clear policies against destroying evidence.

“BP had clear policies requiring preservation of evidence in this case and has undertaken substantial and ongoing efforts to preserve evidence. We will not comment on the government's case against former BP employee Kurt Mix and we will continue cooperating in the Department of Justice's investigation.”

The charges come two years after the spill, which dumped 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf and resulted in the deaths of 11 rig workers.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, quickly reiterated his call for BP executives to make another appearance before Congress.

“The complaint filed by the Department of Justice today raises additional questions about what the company knew about the size of the spill at the time, and whether the company may have had reason to know that the ‘Top Kill’ effort to plug the well could not succeed,” Markey, a longtime critic of oil companies, said in a statement.

“I continue to believe that we need to have BP’s top executives in to testify before the Natural Resources Committee about their response to the spill,” he said.

—Ben Geman contributed.

This post was updated at 1:44 p.m and at 2:14 p.m. with comment from BP.

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