26 Jul 2013

Halliburton to plead guilty over oil spill

3:15 pm on 26 July 2013

Halliburton Energy Services, one of the main parties involved in an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, has agreed to plead guilty to destroying evidence. The spill followed a blast at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers.

The plea agreement, subject to court approval, means Halliburton will have to pay the maximum possible fine.

The spill occurred at BP's Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico and was the worst in United States' history. BP had accused Houston-based Halliburton, its contractor, of destroying evidence and asked it to pay for all damages, the BBC reports.

"A Halliburton subsidiary has agreed to plead guilty to one misdemeanour violation associated with the deletion of records created after the Macondo well incident, to pay the statutory maximum fine of $200,000 and to accept a term of three years probation," the company said in a statement.

Halliburton is the third of three major companies at the heart of the oil spill to admit criminal wrongdoing. Oil giant BP and rig operator Transocean have already pleaded guilty to charges related to the disaster.

The US Department of Justice said that before the blowout at the rig, Halliburton had recommended to BP that the Macondo well contain 21 centralizers - metal collars that can improve cementing. BP chose to use only six.

The department said that Halliburton had run two computer simulations of the Macondo well's final cementing job to compare the impact of using six versus 21 centralizers. It said the results of these simulations indicated that there was little difference.

The department said that Halliburton's programme manager "was directed to, and did, destroy these results".

"Efforts to forensically recover the original destroyed Displace 3D computer simulations during ensuing civil litigation and federal criminal investigation by the Deepwater Horizon Task Force were unsuccessful.

"In agreeing to plead guilty, Halliburton has accepted criminal responsibility for destroying the aforementioned evidence."

Civil trial

Halliburton, along with other firms, is also facing a civil trial over the oil spill.

It is expected to be one of the biggest and costliest trials in decades and will determine the causes of the spill, and assign responsibility to the parties involved, including Halliburton, BP, Transocean, and Cameron, which manufactured the blowout preventer meant to stop oil leaks.

In April this year, Halliburton said that it was in talks to settle claims in the trial. The company has already made a voluntary contribution of $US55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

For its part, BP put aside $US7.8 billion when it agreed last year to pay compensation for the oil spill.