The first criminal charges stemming from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster led to the arrest of a former BP engineer for obstruction of justice Tuesday.
Kurt Mix was arrested on charges of destroying evidence requested by federal authorities investigating the Gulf of Mexico rig explosion that set off the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
Mix, 50, from Katy, Texas, faced two counts of obstruction, according to the Department of Justice.
The department 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 Attorney General Eric Holder.
If convicted, Mix faces as much as 20 years in prison and upwards of $250,000 in fines for each count.?
According the Justice Department, Mix deleted on Oct. 4, 2010, more than 200 earlier text messages between himself and a supervisor suggesting that BP's top kill effort to stem the leak was failing. A top kill is a method of sealing off a wellhead by pumping heavy drilling mud into the wellbore.
Mix is accused of deleting the messages after he learned that his electronic files were to be collected by BP's lawyers.
His string of messages suggest the flow of oil coming out of the well was much more -- 15,000 barrels a day -- than what BP had at the time estimated -- 5,000 barrels.
Mix is also accused of deleting at least 100 additional messages with a BP contactor on Aug. 19, 2011, after receiving several legal notices ordering him to preserve his conversations. This second string of messages concerned how much oil was flowing out of the well, said the DOJ.
BP was not saying much on the issue Tuesday.
BP had clear policies requiring preservation of evidence in this case and has undertaken substantial and ongoing efforts to preserve evidence, said the company in a statement. We will not comment on the government's case against former BP employee Kurt Mix and we will continue cooperating in the Department of Justice's investigation.
On April 20, 2010, an explosion on BP's Deepwater Horizon oil platform caused it to sink, rupturing a wellhead near the ocean floor.
Eleven workers died in the fire and roughly 5 million barrels of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico.
BP is facing billions in liabilities and its environmental fines are contingent on how large the spill is finally assessed.
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 U.S. history, the DOJ said.
Under the Clean Water Act, the company could face as much as $4,300 in fines for every barrel of oil spilled into the Gulf if it is found grossly negligent.
Earlier this month, BP announced it finalized a $7.8 billion settlement with hundreds of thousands of third-party business and property owners affected by the spill.
So far, the company has paid $6.3 billion in claims out of a $20 billion fund it set aside to cover costs of the spill.