During a trial over the cause of the BP oil spill that claimed the lives of eleven people and decimated the Gulf coast with about 4.9 million barrels of oil, both the government and BP alleged that faulty cement work by Halliburton Co. contributed to the disaster. BP also alleged that Halliburton destroyed computer evidence of the faulty cement work. It turns out that the government and BP were correct. In May or June 2010, Halliburton’s cementing technology director ordered the deletion of computer-generated 3D models related to the oil well. This distruction of evidence took place after a company directive to preserve material related to the oil well.
On September 19, 2013, Halliburton pleaded guilty in United States federal court to criminal charges that it destroyed evidence. The Judge accepted the guilt plea, imposed the statutory maximum fine of $200,000, and place Halliburton on a three-year probation. In its plea, Halliburton admitted to “intentionally causing damage without authorization to a protected computer.” This is the third guilty plea by one of the companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Here’s the problem. Two hundred thousand oil-soaked clams ($200,000) is a drop in the bucket to Halliburton. In 2012, Halliburton reported revenues of $28.5 billion. Paying $200,000 and being permitted to carry on with business as usual is no penalty to Halliburton. Imagine if one of the plaintiff law firms involved in the BP settlement pleaded guilty to a crime related to the settlement claims process, got off with a meaningless slap on the hand fine, and was permitted to continue to participate in the process. All hell would break loose. BP would be taking out so many ads in the New York Times that there would be no space to publish Vladimir Putin’s editorial nonsense.
BTW, Halliburton is spinning the criminal guilty plea in a positive light, reporting the payment of the $200,000 fine on its website and boasting that “the DOJ’s investigating Task Force characterized the company’s cooperation in the case as ‘exceptional,’ as well as ‘forthright extensive and ongoing since the outset of the investigation.'” According to Halliburton, the closure of the DOJ investigation “holds significant positive impacts for the company, its employees and shareholders.” That’s a pretty good deal for $200,000.