A federal jury in New Orleans Wednesday convicted a former BP engineer of destroying evidence related to the investigation into the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Kurt Mix, 52, of Katy, Texas was found guilty of one charge of obstructing a federal investigation by deleting 300 text messages from his phone between himself and his BP supervisor.
He faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Mix was acquitted of a second obstruction charge.
The April 2010 platform explosion and fire killed 11 workers on BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico and caused a massive oil spill.
Mix will be sentenced in March 2014.
“Today a jury in New Orleans found that Kurt Mix purposefully obstructed the efforts of law enforcement during the investigation of the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman said in a written statement.
Mix, a drilling and completions project engineer,worked on BP’s efforts to stop the leak and figure out how much oil was leaking. BP instructed him several times to retain all related information, according to the Justice Department.
After Mix learned in October 2010 that his electronic files would be collected by BP’s lawyers, he deleted 300 text messages from his iPhone between himself and his supervisor at BP.
Mix worked on operation Top Kill, the failed BP effort to pump heavy mud into the blown-out wellhead to try to stop the oil flow.
“The deleted messages included a text sent on the evening of May 26, 2010, at the end of the first day of Top Kill,” the DOJ said. “In the text, Mix stated, among other things, ‘Too much flowrate – over 15,000.'”
Before Top Kill started, the DOJ said, Mix and other engineers thought it wouldn’t work if the flow rate was more than 15,000 barrels of oil per day. At the time, BP’s public estimate of the flow rate was 5,000 bpd – three times lower than the minimum flow rate indicated in Mix’s text.
Joan McPhee, Mix’s defense lawyer, said he didn’t try to hide anything from investigators. She argued that MIx perserved other records that contained the same information as the deleted text messages.
McPhee said, “We intend to continue to fight to ensure that justice is done in this case.”