L/rain
47°
L/rain
Hi 50° | Lo 34°

Halliburton to Admit Destroying Gulf Spill Evidence

The oil services giant Halliburton agreed Thursday to plead guilty to destroying evidence during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in 2010, admitting one count of criminal conduct and agreeing to pay the $200,000 maximum statutory fine, according to the Justice Department.

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.

The explosion at BP’s Macondo oil well on April 20, 2010, killed 11 people, destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and ultimately leaked nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Halliburton, which has repeatedly denied responsibility and pointed fingers at BP, will be placed on probation for three years. It also agreed to pay $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation even if the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana does not accept its plea agreement.

The admission will likely complicate Halliburton’s efforts to avoid damage payments in civil suits linked to the Deepwater Horizon spill. During the first quarter of this year, the company took a $637 million charge against earnings to increase to about $1.3 billion a reserve set aside for possible Macondo settlement costs.

Other companies, including BP and the rig owner TransOcean, have already reached deals with the Justice Department.

Halliburton said that the Justice Department agreed not to pursue further criminal prosecution of the company or its subsidiaries and that the department “acknowledged the company’s significant and valuable cooperation.” The company said it would continue to cooperate with any further investigations tied to the incident.

The Houston-based company provided the cement that was supposed to seal the spaces on the outside of the well’s steel drilling pipe, and the quality and drying time of the cement has been the subject of scrutiny by federal investigators.