Halliburton Energy Services Inc.’s cementing technology director, was criminally charged with one count of destroying evidence related to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in federal court Thursday.
This is the latest twist in a legal battle involving oil giant BP and Halliburton, the company consulted on the drilling site’s cement wellhead. A federal report found that both companies shared blame for the wellhead failure, but Halliburton denied responsibility. In July 2013, Halliburton agreed to pay the maximum fine of $200,000 for destroying evidence that suggested BP was not responsible.
This whole saga began three years and five months ago, when a deepwater oil well in the Gulf of Mexico failed, causing an uncontrolled blowout on the Deepwater Horizon rig and an explosion that killed 11 people and resulted in the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
BP was the owner and operator of the Macondo well, and contracted with Halliburton to oversee cement pouring while the well was drilled. During this process, Halliburton recommended BP use 21 “centralizers” — metal collars that help stabilize the well casing. BP decided to go with 6 centralizers instead. The well failed in April 2010, and in May 2010 Halliburton did some sophisticated 3D simulations of the final cementing job to test if BP should have used more centralizers.
The testing, conducted in both May and June, found little difference between using 6 or 21 centralizers on the well. In both cases, the Senior Program Manager who conducted the simulations was directed to “get rid of” the results. The program manager “felt uncomfortable” with the instructions but complied.
The person that ordered the evidence to be destroyed, according to Thursday’s court filings, was Anthony Badalamenti.
Badalamenti is no longer cementing technology director, but the former senior employee was charged with instructing two other employees to delete the post-spill review data that showed no difference between using 6 and 21 centralizers. If the tests had shown that 21 would have been better, Halliburton would have had more of a case to claim that BP’s decision was what caused the failure.
Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement: “Halliburton and one of its managers have now been held criminally accountable for their misconduct, underscoring our continued commitment to ensuring that the victims of this tragedy obtain justice, and to safeguarding the integrity of relevant evidence.”
U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo of the Eastern District of Louisiana also noted that Halliburton self-reported the misconduct and cooperated with the investigation. Badalamenti was charged with a “bill of information,” which often means that the defendant is cooperating with prosecutors.
Rig owner Transocean and BP were both criminally charged for the disaster, but Halliburton was not — these charges are just related to the post-spill review.
Even though the spill happened more than three years ago, residents in the area still feel the effects. The 170,000 workers hired to help clean up the oil spill are at an increased risk of getting cancer, leukemia, and other serious illnesses. And on Thursday, BP sued the state of Louisiana to block its order to remove abandoned anchors the company used to deploy oil spill booms during cleanup efforts.
BP holds more oil leases in the Gulf than any other company, has resumed drilling, and in August, the company filed a lawsuit to reopen remaining federal oil and gas leases.