Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Latest from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill...U.S. arrests BP engineer on criminal charges stemming from oil spill


According to the Washington Post, a former BP Engineer was arrested today for destroying a number of text messages sought by federal investigators who are investigating the BP oil spill of April 20, 2010. BP has stated that it repeatedly notified engineer Kurt Mix that he should preserve all evidence from the event, and that he disregarded these notices. But his actions do raise some questions about

After the blowout on BP's Macondo well, Mr. Mix worked to estimate the amount of oil leaking from the well as well as BP's failed effort to plug the leak, nicknamed Top Kill.. Around October 4, 2010, when Mix learned that his electronic files were going to be collected by a vendor working for BP's lawyers, he deleted a number of  text message from his IPhone between himself and his supervisor. The Justice Department alleges that, judging from some of the deleted texts recovered forensically, the messages contained information that showed that Mix and others at BP knew that the Top Kill effort was likely to fail. Before the Top Kill effort, Mix and other engineers had concluded that this approach was likely to fail if the flow rate was greater than 15,000 barrels a day. In his text messages, Mix reports that the flow rate was indeed too high for Top Kill to work.  At this same time,  BP was reporting that the flow was about 5,000 barrels a day, though in the end federal regulators estimated that the flow was closer to 50,000 barrels a day.

It is hard to know why Kurt Mix decided to delete these text messages even after receiving notices to be sure and preserve any digital evidence related to the spill, but it does raise some interesting questions about how much BP knew about the rate of oil flow during this time, and what it was actually reporting to regulators and the public.  It also highlights some of the responsibilities of engineers when working within a large organization, and what to, and not to do, in these kinds of situations..

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