A former BP Engineer is the first to be charged in the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010.
Kurt Mix, of Katy, Texas, has been arrested and accused of deleting text messages detailing how much oil was gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.
The Justice Department is charging Mix with two counts of obstructing justice for deleting from his iPhone hundreds of text messages he exchanged with a co-worker and a contractor, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday.
The Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, killing 11 men and spewing 200 million gallons of oil.
Mix, 50, 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.
According to the complaint, BP sent numerous notices to Mix requiring him to save all information concerning the well, including his text messages. But according to the charges, Mix 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, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Included in the Top Kill memorandum is a May 26, 2010, message from the first day of the top-kill efforts that said, Too much flowrate-over 15,000. This message indicates the flow from the well was three times higher than the company had claimed.
On March 2, 2012, lawsuits brought on by more than 100,000 fishermen who lost work, cleanup workers who got sick and others who claimed harm from the oil giant's 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster, were settled by BP.
As the historic settlement will have no cap to compensate the plaintiffs, the company estimates it will have to pay out about $7.8 billion, making it one of the largest class-action settlements ever.
After the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989, that oil company ultimately settled with the U.S. government for $1 billion ($1.8 billion in today's dollars).