(CN) – A former BP engineer was arrested Tuesday on charges that he intentionally destroyed more than 300 text messages that federal agents needed for their investigation of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Kurt Mix, 50, of Katy, Texas, was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice in a criminal complaint filed in the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Mix is the first person to face criminal charges over the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on April 20, 2010, killed 11 workers and pumped an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over three months.
Prosecutors say Mix deleted the text messages “relating to the amount of oil flowing from the Macondo well after the explosion.”
“Mix was a drilling and completions project engineer for BP,” according to a Justice Department statement. “Following the blowout, Mix worked on internal BP efforts to estimate the amount of oil leaking from the well and was involved in various efforts to stop the leak. Those efforts included, among others, Top Kill, the failed BP effort to pump heavy mud into the blown out wellhead to try to stop the oil flow. BP sent numerous notices to Mix requiring him to retain all information concerning Macondo, including his text messages.
“On or about Oct. 4, 2010, after Mix learned that his electronic files were to be collected by a vendor working for BP’s lawyers, Mix allegedly deleted on his iPhone a text string containing more than 200 text messages with a BP supervisor.
“The deleted texts, some of which were recovered forensically, included sensitive internal BP information collected in real-time as the Top Kill operation was occurring, which indicated that Top Kill was failing.”
After learning that a vendor working for BP’s outside counsel planned to image his phone, Mix allegedly deleted 100 text messages on Aug. 19 from a conversation he had with a BP contractor. The pair were working together to gauge how much oil was flowing from the well.
If convicted, Mix faces a maximum 20 years in federal prison and a $500,000 fine.
He was scheduled to make an initial appearance Tuesday afternoon before a U.S. magistrate judge in Houston.