Photo by U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images.
The Justice Department on Tuesday made its first arrest in connection with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, charging a former BP drilling engineer with destroying evidence sought by federal authorities investigating the April 2010 environmental disaster.
The Associated Press reports that Kurt Mix, 50, is accused of deleting roughly 300 text messages with a BP supervisor that recounted the oil company's failing efforts to cap the runaway well. Mix allegedly deleted around 200 messages from his iPhone in October 2010 and another 100 messages in August of the following year after learning that his electronic files were set to be collected.
The Justice Department alleges that those messages—some of which were later recovered forensically—included sensitive internal information collected in real-time as BP engineers struggled to plug the well that shows the company intentionally underreported the scope of the disaster.
In one message, Mix allegedly indicated to his supervisor that oil was flowing out of the well at a rate of more than 15,000 barrels per day, more than three times the 5,000-bpd figure that BP had been reporting to the public at the time.
The flow rate was a major point of contention between the oil company, federal authorities and the media during the 87-day spill, particularly in regards to engineers' attempts to plug the well. In the end, federal regulators estimated that the spill averaged a daily flow rate of more than 50,000 barrels.
If convicted, Mix faces up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 on each of the two counts of obstruction of justice, NPR reports. He is scheduled to appear in a Houston federal court on Tuesday afternoon.
You can check out the full DOJ release here.