Deepwater Horizon Blowout Will Have Lasting Impact
Published on Sunday, 6 March 2016 19:35 - Written by Alex Mills, Texas Alliance of Energy Producers
The impact of the blowout of the Deepwater Horizon six years ago will
be felt for many years to come. The economic and environmental aspects
have been staggering.
But for five individuals, the long and
agonizing trail ended recently when the last BP employee charged with
ignoring warning signs leading to the explosion was found not guilty by a
jury in New Orleans.
The U.S. Department of Justice brought criminal charges against five individuals, but could not get a single felony conviction.
Actually, the Justice Department tried to turn a series
of equipment failures and mistakes made by several companies into a
criminal act conducted by five employees.
BP was the operator that hired Transocean Ltd. to drill
the well from their drill ship and Halliburton to provide the technical
services. It was later learned that the blowout preventer failed to
close properly, and other safety equipment failed.
Initially, the DOJ brought some 50 criminal charges that resulted in only three misdemeanors negotiated through guilty pleas.
The last trial ended Feb. 25, when a jury found Robert
Kaluza, the well site leader in charge just before the explosion, not
guilty. He had been accused of negligence that led to the deaths of 11
workers on the drilling rig.
He was charged with 11 counts of
seaman’s manslaughter, which were dismissed, and 11 counts of
involuntary manslaughter, which were withdrawn.
He was found not guilty of violating the Clean Water Act.
Lawyers for Kaluza argued the explosion was an accident and not a crime.
Donald Vidrine, the BP well site leader who was in charge when the
explosion happened, also had 11 counts of seaman’s manslaughter
dismissed and 11 counts of involuntary manslaughter withdrawn.
However, he did plead guilty to violating the Clean Water Act on the condition that he receive probation.
other BP employee who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor was Kurt Mix, a
drilling engineer who played no role in the events leading to the spill.
He was brought in to kill the well, but DOJ charged him with
two counts of obstructing justice because he had deleted some texts from
After four years of court battles, DOJ dismissed the last remaining obstruction charge against Mix on Nov. 6, 2015.
days later, Mix wrote about his account of the events that followed the
blowout in the Wall Street Journal with the headline, “I Was an Oil
“My case centered on the fact that I had
deleted from my iPhone two extended text-message conversations, one of
which was almost entirely personal; the other included personal texts as
well as material related to our effort to kill the well,” Mix wrote. “I
acknowledged from day one that I had deleted the texts. Any information
related to our work, including flow-rate simulations, was fully
addressed in the thousands of emails and documents I gave
He said through the help of a forensic expert, the deleted messages were retrieved and given to DOJ in September 2011.
“I certainly had meant no harm and thought that would be the end of it. I was wrong,” he wrote.
his case dragged on, DOJ offered Mix a deal: If he would plead guilty
to a misdemeanor for deleting the text messages (something he had
already admitted), they would drop the felony charge.
he accepted their offer “to protect myself and my family from any
further entanglement with the criminal-justice system.”
Alex Mills is president of the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers. The opinions expressed are solely of the author.