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Former BP engineer charged with deleting oil spill texts

The Justice Department has filed its first criminal charges related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010. The accused person is not charged with criminal liability in causing the spill itself, described as the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, but with federal obstruction of justice by allegedly deleting text messages sent and received through his cell phone.

Western Pennsylvania residents will no doubt recall the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil right and the subsequent massive oil spill into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It took BP, the oil giant that owned the rig, months to seal the oil leak, which sent millions of barrels of oil into the environment. The company has said that it would do what it can to make up for the disaster, and recently reached a multibillion-dollar settlement with those who suffered economic damage and health problems resulting from the spill.

But for the first time, federal officials are accusing a BP employee of committing a crime in connection with the spill. The defendant worked for the company as a drilling and completions project engineer. After the explosion, he frequently communicated with other employees about trying to stop the leak, prosecutors said, including via text message.

In October 2010, BP told employees not to delete any communications related to the spill. Prosecutors claim that the defendant violated this instruction and deleted hundreds of text messages from his phone, including after he learned that the texts would be copied from the phone for legal examination.

Authorities say those texts included discussions about how an early effort to stop the oil spill was not working due to the size of the leak.

Since the defendant is no longer a BP employee, it is likely he will have to provide for his own legal defense. In a statement, BP declined to comment on the charges, but said the company "has undertaken substantial and ongoing efforts to preserve evidence."

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Engineer charged in BP oil spill case," Clifford Krauss, April 25, 2012

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