On April 20, 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico, 11 people were killed and it began what would go on to become the largest marine oil spill in history, with oil erupting from the sea floor for 87 days, gushing some 5 million barrels into the Gulf.
BP is still considered the main party at fault for the disaster, but Transocean, who operated the Deepwater Horizon rig, and Halliburton, who poured the well cement, have also faced investigations and criminal charges for their involvement in the incident.
On Thursday, Halliburton plead guilty to destroying evidence related to the spill.
In a startling turn in the three-year-old criminal investigation, Halliburton said that on two occasions during the oil spill, it directed employees to destroy or “get rid of” simulations that would have helped clarify how to assign blame for the blowout — and possibly focused more attention on Halliburton’s role.
Later in the piece, Mufson explains what the destroyed evidence would have shown:
Halliburton’s simulations examined one of the key decisions in the run-up to the disaster: Whether BP made a serious error by using six centralizers instead of 21; centralizers are metal collars on the outside of the steel pipe that helped stabilize the drill pipe in the center of the hole.
Before the blowout, Halliburton had recommended that BP use 21 of the centralizers. Later, during inquiries about the spill, Halliburton officials repeatedly pointed at a BP executive who gave the go-ahead to use only six centralizers in part because it would have taken additional time to find more.
Now the plea agreement says that on two occasions Halliburton’s simulations revealed that it made little difference whether BP used six or 21. That would have intensified scrutiny about whether flaws in Halliburton’s cement job were more significant.
Also yesterday, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ordered Transocean to turn over subpoenaed documents related to the spill to the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), which has been trying to investigate the cause of the 2010 incident.
According to The Louisiana Record, Transocean has been challenging the CSB's legal authority and therefore making it harder for them to prevent similar disasters in the future:
The CSB is made up of experts in safety and environmental health who are investigating the explosion and the events leading up to it with the goal of preventing future incidents. During the board’s investigation it subpoenaed internal documents from Transocean – but the company only partially complied with the subpoena, according to court documents.
Transocean is currently appealing the CSB’s authority to investigate the matter.
When you recall that Exxon Mobil is still trying to avoid paying for the damage caused by their 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker spill, it is no surprise that other oil companies would use legal delays and illegal obfuscation to avoid justice being served in this instance.
John Upton at Grist makes a similar point:
To spend three years obstructing a federal probe into the Deepwater Horizon accident may seem unconscionable, but, then, this is the oil-drilling industry that we’re talking about.