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Halliburton guilty plea over spill files accepted by judge

A federal judge accepted a Halliburton Co. unit’s guilty plea to destroying tests conducted on cement work connected to the BP-owned well that exploded in 2010, setting off the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Officials of Halliburton Energy Services Inc., which worked on BP’s Macondo well, announced in July that the company would plead guilty on the unit’s behalf to one count of destroying evidence for failing to preserve computer models examining the final cement job on the well after the April 2010 explosion that killed 11 workers and sent millions of barrels of oil pouring into the gulf.

The Halliburton unit agreed to plead guilty to one misdemeanor violation over the deletion of records created after the Macondo incident, pay the statutory maximum fine of $200,000 and accept a term of three years’ probation. U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo accepted the plea at a hearing yesterday in federal court in New Orleans.

“The plea agreement is reasonable,” Milazzo said. The penalty “adequately reflects the seriousness” of the violation, she said.

The Justice Department has agreed not to pursue any further criminal prosecution of the Houston-based company or its subsidiaries for any conduct related to the well blowout and subsequent spill, Beverly Stafford, a company spokeswoman, said yesterday in a statement.

“Halliburton agreed to plead guilty to one misdemeanor violation associated with the deletion of a computer model record, which was created after the Macondo incident,” Stafford said.

The Justice Department said that it charged a former Halliburton manager with one count of destruction of evidence. Anthony Badalamenti, 61, the cementing technology director of Halliburton Energy Services, directed a company program manager to delete the results of computer simulations, according to a charging document known as a criminal information filed in New Orleans federal court.

Badalamenti or a lawyer representing him couldn’t be immediately located for comment on the charge.

“Halliburton and one of its managers have now been held criminally accountable for their misconduct, underscoring our continued commitment to ensuring that the victims of this tragedy obtain justice, and to safeguarding the integrity of relevant evidence,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

Halliburton is the third corporate defendant to plead guilty to wrongdoing related to the 2010 spill. Transocean Ltd., the Vernier, Switzerland-based owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that burned and sank in the Gulf, pleaded guilty in February to one misdemeanor count of violating the federal Clean Water Act and agreed to pay a $400 million criminal fine.

BP in November agreed to pay $4 billion to resolve a federal criminal probe of its role in the spill. The company pleaded guilty to 14 counts, including 11 for felony seaman’s manslaughter.

“These announcements mark the latest steps forward in the Justice Department’s efforts to achieve justice on behalf of all those affected by the Deepwater Horizon explosion, oil spill and environmental disaster,” Holder said yesterday.

BP, based in London, accused Halliburton in 2011 of destroying the test results so they couldn’t be used to show the cement contractor was at fault for the Macondo blowout. The companies have sued each other over liability for the disaster, which triggered the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The spill sparked hundreds of lawsuits against BP, Halliburton and Transocean.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans is trying to decide whether one or more of the companies were grossly negligent in their management of or work on the well. He heard weeks of testimony this year about alleged miscues at the site.

A second phase of the trial, on the size of the spill and the efforts to contain it, begins Sept. 30 before Barbier.

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