Halliburton has agreed to plead guilty to destruction of evidence in connection with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday. The energy-services giant added in a statement that it will pay the maximum fine of $200,000 for the misdemeanor, and will accept a term of three years' probation.
Separately, Halliburton has also made a voluntary donation of $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, according to the DOJ.
At issue is Halliburton's deletion of records about its own cement tests and simulations after the 2010 disaster, which killed 11 people and released 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The company was responsible for cement work on the Macondo oil well, and before the blowout, it had recommended that BP — which owned the well — use 21 metal "centralizer" collars to stabilize the cement job. BP decided to use six.
Since the spill, Halliburton has cited this to deflect more blame toward BP, arguing the British oil giant carelessly disregarded its advice. But Halliburton also conducted an internal review after the disaster, and according to the DOJ, it ordered workers to destroy evidence of computer simulations that undermined its public high ground. "These simulations indicated that there was little difference between using six and 21 centralizers," the DOJ reports. "Program Manager was directed to, and did, destroy these results."
More evidence was also destroyed a few weeks later in June 2010, and efforts to forensically recover it during civil litigation and federal criminal investigation were unsuccessful. "In agreeing to plead guilty, Halliburton has accepted criminal responsibility for destroying the aforementioned evidence," the DOJ concludes.
"The Department of Justice has agreed that it will not pursue further criminal prosecution of the company or its subsidiaries for any conduct relating to or arising out of the Macondo well incident," Halliburton said in a statement Thursday. "The company has agreed to continue to cooperate with the Department of Justice in any ongoing investigation related to or arising from the incident."
A U.S. district judge in New Orleans is currently examining whether any of the companies involved in the spill — BP, Halliburton and rig owner Transocean — were grossly negligent. Most of the blame so far has fallen on BP, which last year pleaded guilty to 11 felony charges of misconduct or neglect, one felony count of obstruction and two environmental misdemeanors. It agreed to a $4.5 billion settlement with the U.S. government, and Transocean also recently agreed to pay $400 million for its role. Additional fines and punitive damages still hinge, however, on the ongoing civil trial in New Orleans.
The second phase of that trial — which will focus on determining exactly how much oil was spilled into the Gulf — is scheduled to begin in late September.
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