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Ex-BP engineer cuffed 'for deleting Deepwater spill texts'

Allegedly destroyed evidence during oil disaster cleanup

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A former BP engineer has been arrested and accused of covering up how badly the Deepwater Horizon oil spill clean-up was going by deleting text messages.

Kurt Mix was cuffed in the US on the charge of obstruction of justice, for which he could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000 (£309,617).

“The Department [of Justice] 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,” said US Attorney General Eric Holder.

“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 US history,” he added.

The DoJ alleges that Mix, a drilling and completions project engineer at BP, deleted loads of texts from his mobile when he knew that the authorities were coming to collect it.

Mix worked on a number of the efforts by BP to sort out the oil leak, including "Top Kill", a failed attempt to pump heavy mud into the blown-out wellhead to try to stop the oil flow.

Before the attempt was made, Mix and his colleagues had calculated that Top Kill wouldn't work if the flow rate was more than 15,000 barrels per day. At the time they started the effort, BP's public estimate of the flow rate was 5,000 barrels per day.

But Mix's texts, which the DoJ said it had recovered forensically, allegedly included a message to a BP supervisor at the end of the first day saying that Top Kill wasn't going to work.

"Too much flow rate – over 15,000," the DoJ quoted one alleged text (out of 200 in a thread) as saying.

The department claimed that the texts had been deleted in October 2010, when Mix had discovered that his electronic files were going to be collected by BP's lawyers.

The DoJ also alleges that Mix again deleted a text thread in August 2011, when he learned that his iPhone was going to be imaged by BP's outside counsel. Those messages, to a BP contractor, again dealt with issues around how much oil was flowing from the well.

The Justice department set up a special task force to investigate the explosion on the Deepwater oil rig, which killed 11 people.

In response to Mix's arrest, BP said last night that it was cooperating with all aspects of the DoJ's investigation.

"BP had clear policies requiring preservation of evidence in this case and has undertaken substantial and ongoing efforts to preserve evidence," the oil firm said in a canned statement. ®

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