Most of deleted messages were not relevant to oil-spill probe, recipient says

Contractor praises defendant, work

A few days after federal prosecutors read in open court many of the recovered text messages that former BP engineer Kurt Mix is accused of deleting to hamper investigators in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, the BP contractor who received many of the messages testified Monday that he didn’t believe most of them were relevant to the oil-spill response.

Mix was indicted in May 2012. He is accused of deleting 200 messages that he exchanged with a BP supervisor, Jonathan Sprague, plus 100 messages with a BP contractor named Wilson Arabie. Mix, who is also accused of deleting three voice mails, faces two counts of obstructing justice and a potential prison sentence of up to 20 years on each count.

Testifying on the sixth day of Mix’s federal trial in New Orleans, Arabie said he and Mix, 52, have been friends since 2006. “Kurt is one of the best drilling engineers I’ve ever encountered, and he has a high degree of commitment to excellence in the work that he does,” Arabie testified during cross-examination Monday.

Arabie and Mix’s lawyer, Aaron Katz, took turns reading many of the recovered text messages. Most of the exchanges were about getting together to meet, or discussing lunch plans. In one, Mix talked about fixing his broken pool; in another, he sent a photograph of a sunflower. Some of the messages, however, dealt with the central issue of the rate at which oil was flowing into the Gulf of Mexico from BP’s runaway Macondo well.

Last week, an FBI agent involved in the prosecution of companies responsible for the oil spill testified that the deleted messages would have helped the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation of the accident, which killed 11 men and caused the worst environmental disaster in American history.

Special Agent Kelly Bryson said she would have liked to present the contents of the messages to the grand jury considering criminal charges in the wake of the well blowout.

All but 17 of the deleted text messages were later recovered by forensic experts, and during cross-examination, Bryson indicated that she did not present the recovered messages when she testified before a grand jury in May 2012.

Bryson noted that many of the unrecoverable messages were sent as response crews prepared to try to halt the flow of oil from the well through a so-called “top kill,” which meant pumping heavy drilling mud into the well. That attempt failed, in large part because too much oil was flowing from the well, despite lower public estimates being made at the time by BP.

Prosecutors maintain that regardless of what Mix’s text messages said, he was under orders from BP to preserve all documents and messages relating to the disaster. “Intentionally deleting text messages and voice mails to keep them out of the hands of a federal grand jury investigation is a federal crime,” Jennifer Saulino, a Justice Department prosecutor, said during opening arguments.

Defense lawyers replied Mix made every effort to back up and preserve his other documents related to the oil spill, and that he had no reason to try to hide information from a grand jury.

The trial is expected to last into next week.

BP pleaded guilty to criminal charges related to the disaster earlier this year, admitting to 11 counts of felony manslaughter, obstruction of Congress and a series of environmental crimes. It agreed to pay a $4 billion fine.

More than three years after the blowout, just four of its employees have been charged. Three of them are low-level workers. Mix is the first one to stand trial.