Halliburton Pleads Guilty to Destroying Gulf Oil Spill Evidence
Oil services giant Halliburton has pleaded guilty to a criminal charge of destroying key evidence in the wake of the deadly 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent massive oil spill.
The New York Times reports Halliburton will pay a fine of $200,000, the maximum amount allowed by law, and submit to three years’ probation. The Houston-based company will also continue cooperating with the federal government’s criminal investigation and make a voluntary $55 million donation to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
The Huffington Post notes that the $200,000 fine is equivalent to about 23 seconds worth of Halliburton’s revenue, based on 2012 figures.
The Justice Department had charged Halliburton with one count of a Class A misdemeanor for ordering employees to destroy files related to computer simulations that showed there would be little difference between using six and 21 metal centralizing collars to stabilize the cement structure on the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon rig. Before the devastating accident, Halliburton had recommended to BP, the British oil company that operated the Macondo Prospect where the rig was located, to use 21 collars to stabilize the cementing in the doomed well. BP chose to use only six. BP, as well as Transocean, the operator of the Deepwater Horizon rig, have also both pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to the explosion and spill. Last November, BP agreed to pay $4.5 billion after pleading guilty to 14 criminal charges in connection with the disaster.
On April 20, 2010, high-pressure methane gas expanded from the well into the drilling riser and drilling rig, sparking a massive explosion that engulfed the platform. Eleven workers were killed. A massive oil spill followed, discharging nearly 5 million barrels of oil over the course of the next 87 days and wreaking havoc on coastal ecosystems from Texas to Florida. The disaster was the world’s worst-ever accidental oil spill.
Legal experts say Halliburton’s slap-on-the-wrist fine is not nearly as important as the company’s admission of guilt, which will likely help the government’s case in an ongoing civil trial in New Orleans.
“This could impact how the civil litigation is resolved, potentially imposing more liability on Halliburton than we originally thought,” University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told the Times.
Halliburton is no stranger to controversy or criminal charges. Many of the allegations against the company involve its history of doing business in nations run by brutal dictators. Former CEO Dick Cheney once infamously declared that “the good Lord didn’t see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratically elected regimes friendly to the United States.”
In Burma, a military dictatorship, Halliburton was part of an international pipeline consortium which relied upon forced labor and saw the forced displacement, torture, rape and murder of local peasants by corporate security forces.
In Nigeria, Halliburton, along with Chevron, Shell and other corporations, share responsibility for an environmental and human rights disaster on a breathtaking scale. More oil is spilled into the Niger Delta each year than was released during the 2010 Gulf disaster, with devastating results for the environment and residents’ health. Nigerian security forces murder, rape, torture and imprison those who speak out against this massive injustice. Nigeria brought bribery charges against Halliburton and Cheney; the charges were dropped after the company agreed to a $250 million payoff. Halliburton subsidiary KBR pleaded guilty to corruption and conspiracy charges and was fined $402 million by US authorities in 2009.
Halliburton and its subsidiaries have also violated US sanctions by doing business in Libya and Iran, and the company enriched former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, itself and Cheney by helping the tyrant’s regime illegally skirt UN sanctions.
Then-Halliburton subsidiary KBR has been implicated in human trafficking and a host of other crimes, including bribery, kickbacks, concealing rapes, knowingly exposing US troops to carcinogenic chemicals, and the electrocution deaths of at least 18 US troops due to shoddy barracks construction.
Closer to home, Halliburton has released toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, including an acid cloud that forced the evacuation of hundreds of New Mexico residents in 2006.
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