Emails that lawyers plan to introduce in February in the representation of a Defendant in the BP oil spill case show for the first time that the oil company knew the massive scale of the 2010 blowout in the Gulf of Mexico weeks earlier than previously disclosed. BP has long maintained that it provided full disclosure to the public and the federal government about its knowledge of the spill’s extent and did so promptly. The emails suggest otherwise. BP has said in the past that it only learned of the spill’s full extent months after the April 2010 blowout. But the emails indicate that the company knew almost immediately after the drilling rig exploded, killing 11 workers and injuring 17, that the spill would be extraordinarily large.
BP pleaded guilty in mid-November to more than a dozen felony charges related to the spill, including lying to Congress about the size of the leak, as part of a wide-ranging deal settling the company’s corporate criminal liability. According to the Justice Department, a probe of individual criminal activity related to the spill is ongoing and may result in more indictments. Lawyers for one of those charged, Kurt Mix, a former BP engineer named, are defending charges that Mix destroyed evidence showing that BP covered up the true extent of the 2010 spill.
The lawyers asked a federal judge in New Orleans last month for permission to introduce at trial thousands of previously undisclosed emails and internal documents tied to the company’s efforts to measure the undersea leak. They say these documents will exonerate Mix, who faces two felony counts of obstruction of justice for allegedly destroying hundreds of text messages sent to a supervisor during the three-month oil spill, including messages indicating that the flow of oil was far higher than BP publicly estimated at the time. The Mix trial is scheduled for February.
Defense briefs filed by Mix’s lawyers contain new details about BP’s extensive internal efforts to measure the size of the leak, which federal prosecutors contend were deliberately hidden from federal officials, Congress and the public. His lawyers contended that Mix actually shared information with federal officials about the true size of the oil leak during and after the spill — and that he wasn’t part of any cover-up.
Just two days after the rig explosion, Mix emailed a projection to a supervisor estimating the runaway well could be leaking from 62,000 barrels per day to 146,000 barrels per day. Two days later, BP executives told the Coast Guard that its best estimate for the leak was 1,000 barrels per day. After the well was capped, a federal scientific group concluded that the flow was 62,000 barrels per day at the beginning of the disaster. In another email, dated May 10, 2010, an executive at a Norwegian energy consulting firm said he had analyzed video of the undersea leak sent to him by Mix and that the flow at seabed could be on the order of 40,000 barrels per day. The executive’s name is redacted in Mix’s brief.
Four days later, Bob Dudley, BP’s current chief executive, appeared on MSNBC with Andrea Mitchell and defended the company’s flow rate estimate of 5,000 barrels per day, which it had provided to Congress and federal officials for weeks as the best estimate of the size of the leak. Dudley said the independent experts saying the oil flow was much higher were “scaremongering.” He emphasized that “five thousand barrels a day, while inexact, is the best estimate of the industry experts.”
In its guilty plea in November, BP acknowledged that it misled Congress about the size of the spill. But the only company executive indicted for lying about the flow estimates is David Rainey, a senior vice president who was BP’s second in command in the oil spill response. Rainey was charged in November with two felony counts of obstruction of justice for lying to Congress and federal officials about internal BP attempts to measure the size of the leak. Rainey’s trial is scheduled for January 28th, but his lawyers have requested a postponement. The sad part of this story as it applies to Rainey is that I seriously doubt that he was the only senior executive at BP who lied.
The legal brief filed by Mix’s lawyers said the deletion of text messages by the client was inadvertent and had nothing to do with BP’s guilty plea to obstruction of justice. The government has only accused Mix of deleting text messages — not deleting emails or any other document. In a sworn statement released in April after Mix’s indictment, Barbara O’Donnell, an FBI special agent, said Mix deleted numerous electronic messages related to the spill, after being “repeatedly informed of his obligation to maintain such records.”
Critics of BP praised the ongoing criminal prosecutions over the flow rate, saying they may shed important new light on the energy giant’s corporate culture. “This is a central issue. It shows just how morally and ethically bankrupt institutions within BP were,” said Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program for Public Citizen, a nonprofit advocacy group that has been harshly critical of BP’s safety and environmental record.
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