The trial of a former BP Plc engineer charged in the first criminal case arising from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill was postponed to December from June, a judge said.
The U.S. charged Kurt Mix, the former BP engineer, with two counts of obstruction of justice last year, alleging he deleted from his mobile phone text-message strings related to the company’s effort to estimate the size of the spill.
U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval ordered the delay yesterday at a pretrial conference.
“Barring an extreme event there will be no further continuances,” according to the minutes of the conference posted on the case docket today. The trial had previously been postponed from February.
The ruling comes after defense attorneys complained that federal prosecutors failed to turn over evidence requested that might exonerate Mix. Duval ordered the government at a hearing May 14 to provide the defense with additional evidence. Mix’s lawyers said they needed to postpone the trial to search through this material, according to the docket.
The U.S. didn’t oppose the postponement.
The blowout and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in April 2010 killed 11 workers and started millions of barrels of crude leaking into the Gulf. It also set off hundreds of lawsuits against BP, its partners and contractors on the project.
A nonjury trial on fault for the incident ended last month before a separate judge in federal court in New Orleans. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who is overseeing litigation stemming from the blowout, has said that he may not issue a judgment on fault and gross negligence before a scheduled second phase of the trial set for Sept. 16. That phase will concern the size of the spill and the efforts to contain it.
Mix worked on BP efforts to estimate the amount of oil leaking from the Macondo well. The two counts of the indictment concern text messages between him and a contractor and another string with his supervisor. Mix’s prosecution was the first criminal case to arise from the 2010 spill.
Since his arrest in April 2012, BP and Transocean Ltd. have pleaded guilty to criminal charges over the spill. In addition, two BP well-site managers were charged with involuntary manslaughter and the company’s former vice president of exploration for the Gulf of Mexico was charged with obstruction of Congress and false statements related to the size of the spill. All three have pleaded not guilty. The case is U.S. v. Mix, 12-cr-00171, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).