A major energy company has agreed to plead guilty for destroying evidence in the wake of the largest oil spill in U.S. history, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 people, the Department of Justice said Thursday. In a single count filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana, Halliburton Energy Services has agreed to admit criminal fault for its attempt to buffer itself against further punishment and liability lawsuits by destroying evidence.
"As part of the plea agreement, Halliburton has further agreed, subject to the court's approval, to pay the maximum-available statutory fine, to be subject to three years of probation and to continue its cooperation in the government's ongoing criminal investigation," said a DOJ press release. "Separately, Halliburton made a voluntary contribution of $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation that was not conditioned on the court's acceptance of its plea agreement."
Halliburton, consulting with BP for BP's Macondo well, recommended that the company use 21 centralizers – the metal rings surrounding the pipeline casing for stabilization. BP used just six. Following the April 20, 2010, explosion, Halliburton ran simulations to determine whether the number used was a factor, but discovered it was not – meaning Halliburton could not shift liability for the accident completely onto Deepwater Horizon.
"These simulations indicated that there was little difference between using six and 21 centralizers," said the DOJ release. "[A] program manager was directed to, and did, destroy these results."
Further simulations were also conducted and destroyed, according to DOJ.
"Efforts to forensically recover the original destroyed...computer simulations during ensuing civil litigation and federal criminal investigation by the Deepwater Horizon Task Force were unsuccessful," according to DOJ. "In agreeing to plead guilty, Halliburton has accepted criminal responsibility for destroying the aforementioned evidence."
The Justice Department said the investigation into the accident is ongoing.