The U.S. Department of Justice announced today that Halliburton, the cement contractors BP used for its ill-fated Macondo well, agreed to plead guilty for destroying evidence connected to the Deepwater Horizon tragedy.
On their web site, the DOJ’s Criminal Division said Halliburton was being charged with one count of destruction of evidence, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana today.
The cement contracting firm has signed a cooperation and guilty plea agreement with the government, DOJ wrote,
“in which Halliburton has agreed to plead guilty and admit its criminal conduct. 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,
According to New Orleans court documents, following the blowout, Halliburton conducted its own technical review of the well’s design and construction. On or about May 3, 2010, DOJ said, Halliburton established an “internal working group” to examine the Macondo well blowout, including whether the number of centralizers used on the final production casing could have contributed to it.
Use of centralizers can help keep the casing centered in the wellbore away from the surrounding walls as it is lowered and placed in the well. They are also critical in maintaining the integrity of the cement at the bottom of the casing.
In March, this Examiner reported that fewer centralizers were used than were recommended by Halliburton to secure the Macondo well. Halliburton had recommended that BP use 21 centralizers but the oil company opted to use only 6.
The DOJ pointed out today that around May 2010, Halliburton conducted an extensive investigation led by their technology director, who oversaw running two computer simulations of the Macondo well final cement job. Using 3D imagery,they compared the impact of using six versus the recommended 21 centralizers.
These simulations apparently indicated that there was little difference between using six and 21 centralizers. According to the DOJ, the program manager on the study was directed to and did destroy the test results.
The DOJ continued,
In or about June 2010, similar evidence was also destroyed in a later incident. Halliburton’s Cementing Technology Director asked another, more experienced, employee (“Employee 1”) to run simulations again comparing six versus 21 centralizers. Employee 1 reached the same conclusion and, like Program Manager before him, was then directed to “get rid of” the simulations.
Efforts to forensically recover the original destroyed Displace 3D computer simulations during ensuing civil litigation and federal criminal investigation by the Deepwater Horizon Task Force were unsuccessful.
In agreeing to plead guilty, Halliburton has accepted criminal responsibility for destroying the aforementioned evidence.
The news is no doubt a boon to BP, which last March was made to look like they alone were trying to short shrift the cement process by forgoing the recommended 21 centralizers.
Separately, Halliburton contributed $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation that was not conditioned on the court’s acceptance of the plea agreement, DOJ said. It’s unclear why this deal occurred.
The second phase of the civil trial is due to start September 30 in Judge Carl Barbier’s court.