The saga of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is far from over.
On Tuesday, the first criminal charge and arrest in the case was carried out on a former engineer for BP (NYSE: BP).
Kurt Mix was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice and released on $100,000 bail. Authorities believe he deleted somewhere between 200 and 300 text messages indicating that the well was leaking more than publicly reported.
Mix could get 20 years in prison and receive fines of $250,000 for each of the two charges.
Some believe that Mix was the first arrest because, as a former rather than current employee, he might be the most willing to give up information on others who were more deeply involved.
Anthony Michael Sabino of St. John’s University School of Law agreed:
“When you’re a prosecutor you start with the little fish and you hope the little fish helps you catch a medium-sized fish; then you go after the big fish until you get the biggest fish of all.”
Kurt Mix is the little fish.
Mix has been ordered to appear in the New Orleans federal district court on May 3rd for his hearing.
His lawyer, Joan McPhee of Ropes & Gray, believes he is not at fault:
“The government says he intentionally deleted text messages from his phone, but the content of those messages still resides in thousands of emails, text messages, and other documents that he saved.”
One of the allegedly deleted text messages was from May 26, 2010, just after the company’s top kill. Mix’s message reported that the well was still spilling 15,000 barrels of oil per day.
In a public statement regarding the top kill, BP officials announced that the well was only spilling 5,000 barrels per day.
BP is currently involved in a civil settlement and is likely to owe $7.8 billion to various plaintiffs, including businesses and individuals, who suffered losses due to the spill.
The Clean Water Act charges a fine of $1,100 to $4,300 per barrel spilled. The Macondo well spilled 5 million barrels over 3 months.
That’s all for now,