Source: Reuters – Fri, 26 Jul 2013 12:19 AM
* Third company to plead guilty over Gulf spill
* Halliburton to pay $200,000 fine
* $55 million to be donated to fish and wildlife group
By Jonathan Stempel and Braden Reddall
July 25 (Reuters) – Halliburton Co has agreed toplead guilty to destroying evidence related to the 2010 Gulf ofMexico oil spill, the U.S. Department of Justice said onThursday.
The government said Halliburton’s guilty plea is the thirdby a company over the spill and requires the world’ssecond-largest oilfield services company to pay a maximum$200,000 statutory fine.
Halliburton also agreed to three years of probation and tocontinue cooperating with the criminal probe into the April 20,2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.
Court approval is required. Houston-based Halliburton alsomade a separate, voluntary $55 million payment to the NationalFish and Wildlife Foundation, the Justice Department said.
Edward Sherman, a Tulane University law professor, said theplea could suggest weakness in Halliburton’s position innegotiating a settlement over spill-related liabilities.
“Their willingness to plead to this may also indicate thatthey’d like to settle up with the federal government on thecivil penalties,” he said. “It may indicate a softening of theirposition.”
Halliburton confirmed in a statement that it pleaded guiltyto the misdemeanor charge and confirmed the plea agreement’sterms.
The disaster caused 11 deaths and triggered the largest U.S.offshore oil spill following the rupture of the Macondo oilwell, which was 65 percent owned by BP Plc. Halliburtonhad earlier provided cementing services to help seal the well.
According to the government, Halliburton recommended to BPthat the Macondo well contain 21 centralizers, metal collarsthat can improve cementing, but BP chose to use six.
The government said that, during an internal probe into thecementing after the blowout, Halliburton ordered workers todestroy computer simulations that showed little differencebetween using six and 21 centralizers.
Efforts to locate the simulations forensically wereunsuccessful, the government said.
A document detailing the allegations was filed with the U.S.District Court in New Orleans.
BP and Transocean Ltd, which owned the drilling rig,previously entered guilty pleas over other aspects of the Gulfoil spill, and agreed to pay respective criminal fines of $1.26billion and $400 million.
Both declined to comment on the Halliburton plea.
Halliburton, BP and Transocean are also defendants in afederal civil trial that began in February to apportion blameand set damages for the oil spill.
The first witness for Halliburton, cementing servicecoordinator Nathaniel Chaisson, had testified that he wasconcerned about BP’s use of just six centralizers.
The trial is scheduled to resume in September. Halliburtonsaid in April it was in talks to settle private claims againstit in the damages trial.
The case is U.S. v. Halliburton Energy Services Inc, U.S.District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana, No. 13-00165. Themain spill trial is in re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig “DeepwaterHorizon” in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010 in the samecourt, No. 10-md-02179.