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A former BP engineer has been charged by US authorities with allegedly obstructing the investigation into the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
The charges facing Kurt Mix, who worked as a drilling and completions engineer for BP, are the first criminal ones to be brought against an individual in the wake of America’s worst offshore oil spill.
The 50 year-old, who lives in Texas and resigned from BP in January, is accused of deliberately destroying evidence relating to the UK oil company’s efforts to staunch the flow of oil from the Macondo well in 2010.
US prosecutors allege that Mr Mix deleted more than 200 text messages sent between him and a supervisor that provided a real-time record of whether the “Top Kill” operation - one of several BP tried to seal the well - was proving effective.
One of the texts, which was recovered forensically, said that the amount of oil still flowing from the well after Top Kill was 15,000 barrels. That was greater than the public estimate given at the time by BP, the Department of Justice alleged.
While the charges against Mr Mix do not relate to who was ultimately to blame for the spill, the amount of oil that gushed into Gulf waters is central in determining the size of fine that BP is likely to face.
The Department of Justice is “continuing its investigation into the explosion”, Eric Holder, the US attorney general, said.
The explosion, whose second anniversary passed last week, killed 11 people and spewed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf.
Mr Mix ignored requests from BP to preserve all evidence relating to the spill, prosecutors alleged. The engineer could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 (£155,000) if found guilty.
According to Bloomberg, Mr Mix did not enter a plea at a federal court hearing in Houston yesterday.
BP said it had a clear policy on the need to preserve evidence but declined to comment further.
The oil major last week finalised its $7.8bn settlement with the victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in a move that significantly reduces the chance of a trial.