(Dow Jones) A former engineer for BP PLC (BP, BP.LN) has been arrested and accused of deleting text messages detailing how much oil was gushing into the Gulf of Mexico as BP tried to staunch the Deepwater Horizon spill in the spring of 2010.
Kurt Mix, of Katy, Texas, is charged with two counts of obstructing justice for deleting from his smartphone hundreds of text messages he exchanged with a co-worker and a contractor, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday.
Mix was part of an internal team BP set up to estimate the amount of oil leaking from the well as well as to try to stop the leak.
(This story and related background material will be available on The Wall Street Journal website, WSJ.com.)
In a statement, BP said that it wouldn’t comment on the charges against Mix but that the company had clear policies requiring preservation of evidence in the case.
“BP is cooperating with the Department of Justice and other official investigations into the Deepwater Horizon accident and oil spill,” according to the statement.
BP sent numerous notices to Mix requiring him to save all information concerning the well, including his text messages, according to the complaint, but he allegedly deleted about 200 text messages in October 2010 and 100 other messages in August 2011.
The deleted messages, some of which were recovered forensically, included sensitive information about the failure of one of the efforts to stop the flow of oil, known as the Top Kill. This includes a May 26, 2010, message from the first day of the Top Kill efforts that said “Too much flowrate–over 15,000,” indicating the flow from the well was three times higher than the company had said was the official rate of flow.
The complaint represents the first criminal charges brought against any workers involved in the accident or its aftermath.
-By Tom Fowler, The Wall Street Journal