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Behind a BP Engineer's Arrest in the Oil Spill Probe

Behind a BP Engineer's Arrest in the Oil Spill Probe
Photograph by U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images

More than two years after the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the federal government’s criminal investigation has produced its first charges. They will not be the last.

The arrest of a former BP engineer for deleting text messages he was supposed to preserve may seem like small potatoes for the mighty U.S. Department of Justice. What the obstruction charges really mean, however, is that prosecutors are focusing on whether BP tried to cover up the size of the spill in an attempt to trim billions of dollars from its ultimate criminal environmental-law fine.