Oil giant destroyed spill evidence

Last updated 05:00 30/07/2013
Deepwater
Reuters
The fire aboard Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion in 2010 triggered the worst oil spill in US history.

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Halliburton Energy Services has agreed to plead guilty to destroying evidence in connection with the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

Federal officials said in a news release that a criminal information charging Halliburton with one count of destruction of evidence was filed in federal court.

Halliburton has agreed to pay the maximum fine, be on probation for three years and continue to cooperate with the government's criminal investigation, said the news release, which did not specify the fine amount.

The Texas-based company has also made a $55 million contribution to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. It was not a condition of the court agreement, the news release says.

Halliburton was British oil giant BP's cement contractor on the drilling rig that exploded after a well blowout, killing 11 workers and spilling millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf.

The company said in a statement that it had agreed to plead guilty "to one misdemeanor violation associated with the deletion of records created after the Macondo well incident, to pay the statutory maximum fine of $US200,000 and to accept a term of three years probation."

The Justice Department has agreed it will not pursue further criminal prosecution of the company or its subsidiaries for any conduct arising from the 2010 spill, Halliburton's statement said, adding that federal officials have also "acknowledged the company's significant and valuable cooperation during the course of its investigation."

The plea agreement is subject to court approval, the company said.

According to the news release, Halliburton conducted its own review of the well's design and construction after the blowout, and established a working group to review "whether the number of centralizers used on the final production casing could have contributed to the blowout."

The casing is a steel pipe placed in a well to maintain its integrity. Centralizers are metal collars attached on the outside of the casing. Centralizers can help keep the casing centered in the wellbore.

Prior to the blowout, Halliburton had recommended to BP the use of 21 centralizers in the well, but BP decided to use six instead, the news release says.

Around May 2010, the news release says, the company directed a program manager to conduct two computer simulations of the Macondo well final cementing job "to compare the impact of using six versus 21 centralizers."

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The simulations indicated there was little difference between using six and 21 centralizers, but the program manager "was directed to, and did, destroy these results," federal officials say.

Similar evidence was destroyed in a subsequent incident, in June 2010, the Justice Department said.

"Efforts to forensically recover the original destroyed Displace 3D computer simulations during ensuing civil litigation and federal criminal investigation by the Deepwater Horizon Task Force were unsuccessful," the news release said. "In agreeing to plead guilty, Halliburton has accepted criminal responsibility for destroying the aforementioned evidence."

The plea agreement and criminal charge both arise from a criminal investigation being conducted by the Deepwater Horizon Task Force into the spill.

Halliburton and BP have blamed each other for the failure of the cement job to seal the Macondo well. During a trial, BP asked a federal judge to sanction Halliburton for allegedly destroying evidence about the role that its cement slurry design could have played in the blowout.

The company announced in April it was trying to negotiate a settlement over its role in the disaster.

- AP

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