Halliburton Destroys BP Oil Spill Evidence, Gets an Underwhelming $200K Fine (But That's Not the End of the Story)

British Petroleum has been synonymous with the Gulf Coast Oil spill -- called the worst environmental disaster in American history by some -- since the Deepwater Horizon rig blew out on April 20, 2010, killing 11 and starting a leak that dumped almost 5 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

After the well blew out, all the parties involved -- BP, Halliburton and Transocean, the operator of the Deepwater rig -- were ordered to keep everything pertaining to the work being done on the well for the impending, inevitable investigation. All three companies have pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the years after the disaster, but BP has been the company most directly associated with the spill. (Who doesn't call it the *BP* oil spill?) But as of now, BP is getting something of a break.

It turns out Halliburton (Yep, the one former Vice President Dick Cheney made a little more famous) didn't exactly follow instructions about the evidence, according to the Washington Post. Halliburton had advised the folks over at BP to use 21 centralizers -- metal collars placed on the outside of the steel pipe to help stabilize the pipe -- but BP only used six.

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After the well blew, Halliburton employees ran simulations to test whether not using more centralizers contributed to the accident. That's all harmless enough, relatively speaking, but the Houston-based company proceeded to delete the tests, results and all, which went against federal investigator directions about as clearly as someone telling you to go right means you veer left.

Halliburton agreed to plead guilty to one count of destroying evidence in connection with the Deepwater disaster, according to the U.S. Justice Department. To settle things out, the company will pay $200,000, the maximum statutory fine, and has agreed to continue cooperating with the government's ongoing criminal investigation. Halliburton is also "voluntarily" donating $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. BP has been in court all this time, doling out money for oil spill claims and trying to persuade the legal system that the other companies involved in drilling the well should share a portion of the blame. Meanwhile, Halliburton has been busily pointing the finger at BP for the past three years. So this is something of a win for the London-based company, since Halliburton is decidedly involved now.

This may not seem like much of a punishment, Halliburton paying the maximum fine for the transgression -- an underwhelming $200,000 is pretty much next to nothing in the energy world -- and being on probation for the next three years. However, that deleting of evidence could cost the company a hell of a lot more in the civil trial in New Orleans, since it is decidedly involved now, according to The New York Times.

This development comes on the heels of another accident in the Gulf, but the fire on the natural gas well blowout just off the coast of Louisiana was put out Thursday and the crew was unharmed, according to The Advocate.

Somewhere out there, the folks over at BP are totally (probably, maybe, possibly) doing a Snoopy dance over this. The piper has got to be paid, but it's better for BP if there's more than one company with some potential legal obligation to pay up.

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