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Gulf oil spill: Halliburton to plead guilty to destroying evidence

Reuters, Guardian.uk, July 26 2013

Contractor to plead guilty over deleted computer simulations testing methods used to cement Deepwater Horizon well

Halliburton has agreed to plead guilty to destroying evidence related to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the US department of justice said on Thursday.

The government said Halliburton's guilty plea was the third by a company over the spill and would require the world's second-largest oilfield services company to pay a maximum US$200,000 statutory fine.

Halliburton also agreed to three years' probation and to continue co-operating with the criminal probe into the 20 April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

Court approval of the deal is required. Houston-based Halliburton also made a separate, voluntary $55m payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the justice department said.

Edward Sherman, a Tulane University law professor, said the plea could suggest weakness in Halliburton's position in negotiating a settlement over spill-related liabilities. "Their willingness to plead to this may also indicate that they'd like to settle up with the federal government on the civil penalties," he said. "It may indicate a softening of their position."

Halliburton said in a statement that it pleaded guilty to the misdemeanour charge and confirmed the plea agreement's terms.

The disaster caused 11 deaths and triggered the largest US offshore oil spill following the rupture of the Macondo oil well, which was 65% owned by BP. Halliburton had earlier provided cementing services to help seal the well.

According to the government Halliburton recommended to BP that the Macondo well contain 21 centralisers – metal collars that can improve cementing – but BP chose to use six. The government said that during an internal probe into the cementing after the blowout Halliburton ordered workers to destroy computer simulations that showed little difference between using six and 21 centralisers.

Efforts to locate the simulations forensically were unsuccessful, the government said.

BP and Transocean Ltd, which owned the drilling rig, have previously entered guilty pleas over other aspects of the Gulf oil spill and agreed to pay respective criminal fines of $1.26bn and $400mn. Both declined to comment on the Halliburton plea.

Halliburton, BP and Transocean are also defendants in a federal civil trial that began in February to apportion blame and set damages for the oil spill.

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