Journalism in the Public Interest

Feds File First Criminal Charges Related to BP Gulf Spill

The charges against former BP engineer Kurt Mix are expected to be the first step in an ongoing investigation that could reach into the executive suite.


Crews work on the attempted "top kill" procedure at the source site of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on May 29, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico near Venice, La. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Two years after oil from a BP well began gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. Department of Justice has filed criminal charges alleging that a former BP employee destroyed critical evidence in the early days of the unfolding disaster.

The charges are the first to be filed in what the Obama administration has called the worst environmental disaster in American history, and they are significant because they target an individual employee for his actions.

According to an affidavit and complaint filed today in a Louisiana court, Kurt Mix, a former drilling and completions engineer, deleted email and text messages he had sent to senior BP managers estimating that the amount of oil spewing into the Gulf was many times greater than the amount stated publicly. Mix was specifically instructed by attorneys contracted by BP to retain his records before he deleted them, the affidavit states.

In a statement released to reporters, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder indicated that more charges are likely, describing the indictment as "initial charges" in an ongoing investigation, and saying that the Department of Justice "will hold accountable those who violated the law."

More than 200 million gallons of crude oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico after a blowout caused the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and the death of 11 workers on April 20, 2010. The spill continued, unabated, for nearly three months. Analysts have long expected criminal charges against BP or its employees.

A spokeswoman for the agency declined to say when more charges might be expected, or to explain why the case against Mix was the first to be made public.

Mix could not be reached for comment, and we were unable to leave him a message because his voicemail was full.

BP issued a statement saying that the company was cooperating with federal investigators and that "BP had clear policies requiring preservation of evidence in this case and has undertaken substantial and ongoing efforts to preserve evidence."

According to an FBI affidavit submitted to the court along with the indictment, Mix, who worked for BP until January 2012, was directly involved in BP's efforts to understand how much oil was flowing out of the broken Macondo well. On April 21, 2010, Mix estimated that between 68,000 and 138,000 barrels of oil were leaking each day — far more than the 5,000 barrels that were estimated publicly at the time.

On April 22, Mix received the first of six legal notices instructing him to retain his electronic records.

Yet, according to the affidavit, in early October, Mix allegedly deleted a string of more than 200 text messages on his iPhone that he had sent to a supervisor. The deleted texts, which the Department of Justice said were recovered forensically, included sensitive — and pessimistic — internal BP information sent while the company was attempting what it called a "Top Kill" effort to stop the gushing oil on May 26, 2010.

Mix wrote that the effort — which he was directly involved in — was unlikely to succeed. "Too much flowrate — over 15,000 and too large an orifice. Pumped over 12,800 bbl of mud today plus 5 separate bridging pills. Tired. Going home and getting ready for round three tomorrow."

At the time, BP said publicly that the measure had a 70 percent chance of success.

Mix, 50, was arrested in Katy, Texas today. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on each of the two counts he is charged with.

In other words, BP has offered up a sacrificial lamb to protect its profits.

It’s going to be interesting to see BP convince the court that they don’t archive every e-mail, just in case they need it (to have an employee fired or to win a patent dispute) and Mix would be wholly responsible for preserving the evidence.

Text messages, maybe.  But even where it’s possible, why would Mix, basically a whistle-blower, destroy the evidence of his being right to protect a company he warned, when he “was specifically instructed by attorneys contracted by BP,” which would have included mention that it’s always a much bigger crime to destroy evidence once investigations have begun?

I just keep thinking about that interview on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 with that one deepwater survivor and what he said about working on the rig
“You could call time out for safety,they wouldn’t fire you for it but they would find another way to fire you for it”
          - Daniel Baron deepwater survivor
This was stated in front of four other survivors and all agreed.
This is why we need serious whistleblower protection.
I know first hand how bad it is out there for whistleblowers because i am one.
I have been posting my case on the U.S department of labor’s youtube video’s in an attemp to expose how pathetic OSHA 11(c) is at protecting whistleblowers.
Our case involved Sunoco refineries were our employer risked a disaster.There was even a DOL offical who provided me inside information for they knew they were lying to there investigators.
I used that information on 14 diffrent timelined dates untill they cought onto what i was doing but it was too late they hung themselves with even faxes to me on six of those dates with there names and dates on the cover sheets.This is also a federal crime lying to federal investigators but were just the little guy so it’s o.k.There is way too much to our case to post here but this type of accident will obviousley happen again.
Workers are the front line of defense in preventing these disasters so why is DOL attacking us?

So, when is the DOJ going to file charges against the banks, mortgage brokers, mortgage originators, rating agencies, who participated in the greatest mortgage fraud in the last century?

@ John: absolutely. If this was for anything more than show, they would be arresting many others, much higher up the corporation’s food chain. The lies to federal agencies, trying to hinder outside investigation by U.S. environmental agencies…That came from the high echelon. Until they are arrested, I am convinced that this is nothing more than a show to say “Look, we’re doing something about it…”

I have read and rre read several articles in various global newspapers and online web sites both Oil and Gas related and not related and i still can not work out what this chap had to do with the original blow out ,

I understand he was involved in the well recovery programme but i am unaware charges were being brought against people or companies working to actualy control / stop the flow and recover the well.

Does this now mean that the all the people involved directly in the well kill programme are now going to have charges brought against them and what would these charges consist of ?

I am not from the US and to tell the truth given these latest events i am quite glad.

michael tichonuk

April 26, 2012, 6:12 p.m.

Now I understand why fox went on the attack on the EPA today, demonizing an agency who only wants to protect our water and air.

When I read the DoJ comments about prosecuting anyone who broke the law - it hit me. We have a legal system that considers disasters like this an acceptable risk.

Look, I have no doubt that BP - as an organization - broke the law and should be prosecuted for it. But I also have a feeling that they didn’t break the law nearly so badly as we think they they broke the law.

Why? Because we have a legal system that views gigantic environmental disasters as an acceptable risk for feeding our addiction to black, sticky sources of energy.
BP is an awful company. All fossil fuel companies are awful. They are in the business of destruction for profit. I’m not saying they aren’t.

But this is the system we all asked for. We demand more sources of fossil fuel energy and so a legal system has been created such that so long as a company can show it has tried its best to prevent accidents then they are held harmless when accidents happen.

The question we need to ask ourselves is: do we really want to risk more of these accidents? I don’t. So maybe instead of demanding the heads of BP we should demand laws that just stop deep water drilling all together. How about that?
Eat The Babies! - some comics about fossil fuels

I have found the news less exciting as it stated. I will touch on two topics: one is corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the other is whistle blowing.
BP has been painted as a cooperative citizen in the article and is far from the image I have. BP should be held accountable because BP is culpable in causing environmental harm and violating safety standards.  Jennifer Moore has argued for corporate culpability by using corporate character theory. BP has a history of causing environmental harm and human life loss. These disasters were not anomalies but the result of BP’s profit maximisation. Sadly the unexciting consequence is BP was fined.
Will the financial punishments or the criminal charges give us confidence in prevention? I doubt. The hope comes from BP changing the corporate culture and seriously undertaking of CSR. 
To manage with a strong sense of CSR, BP must first understand Freeman’s stakeholder management and stop ignoring other stakeholders in its profit maximising strategy. The obvious stakeholders include its employees, the communities, and the government who sets environment laws and so on. Many critics have argued the long term benefit business will reap by aiming for a sustainable and well balanced stakeholders’ network.  Managing for stakeholders fits well in the Utilitarian view as it brings the best consequences for all concerned in a long term effect. However Freeman (1984) defines stakeholders as “any group or individual who can affect or are affected by the achievement of a corporation’s performance”. He failed to include the environment and our future generations in his scope of stakeholders.
I’d argue that the environment and future generations must be considered as stakeholders and is supported by Utilitarianism. By causing environmental harm and loss of human life, BP has made huge financial payout; its shareholders faced financial loss due to stock value decreased; the employees are dissatisfied, the communities suffered; the government is unpleased with the environment laws and safety standards violated; the future generations is worse off by inheriting less available resourced .This unhappiness could be eliminated or minimised if BP had managed with prudence concerning the environment and the future generation’s interest.  The best can be produced for all concerned. Velasquez argued in his ecological ethics that we respect and protect the intrinsic values in life forms in the ecological system.
The very basic right of human rights is to live. Since 1998, more than 30 people employed directly or indirectly by BP have died in industrial accidents. No individuals were charged until now; and the financial punishments failed to deter “corporate killings”. If BP continues to neglect human rights, the payout is just another operation cost to BP, and it will simply find other individuals to replace the sentenced ones.
BP needs to understand the rights it has enjoyed in using the resources for its business actives impose duties it must fulfil as per the Moral Rights theory. Without fulfilling its duties, BP shall not be entitled to enjoy its rights. 
BP management play a key role in fulfilling CSR. They should reflect stakeholders’ interests in decisions and manage beyond the narrow sense of stakeholders. However more discussions are needed regarding how to govern corporations, and who is best suited for the governor’s role, e.g. an independent body, the government (bearing in mind powerful corporations influence government’s decision through lobbying).
As to Kurt Mix, he had the perfect opportunity to blow the whistle. He was a voluntary BP employee, he had the information from his direct work involvement in effort to stop the oil spill by BP, and the information was withheld by BP, thus the government and the public were not informed of the truth. If he had blown the whistle, his behaviour is morally justified according to Davis’ complicity theory. He would not face the criminal charge. Why he did not do so? I do not have sufficient information to comment on his reasoning; what would happen to Mix if he did blow the whistle? Even in countries where there is legal protection for morally required whistle blowers, it does not eliminate later difficulties faced by him in future employment etc.  How do we better support whistle blowers? This grants a new discussion.

“it does not eliminate later difficulties faced by him in future employment etc”

Can we reflect back to the people that tried to blow the whisltle on 3 mile island ?

Risk to life or limb is a reality , even the goverment of the USA openly oppressors people and groups that exersise your fundamentle right to free speach

Get real Bonnie Y this is not some text book exersise filled with engaging buzz words it is the real down and dirty world of uncontrolled capitalism

Hi Stephen and others,
My response is one of the assignments I have done for my study. So it looks quite lengthy. I appreciate thaat there might be gaps between what we learn and what is in pratice, but if we do not learn, especially try to educate the future ones, the gaps can never be filled. Thank you for your reply.

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The BP oil disaster in the Gulf has had untold health, economic and environmental effects.

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