Judge urged to accept Halliburton's guilty plea

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Halliburton Energy Services and Justice Department prosecutors have urged a federal judge to approve a plea deal that calls for the Houston-based company to pay a $200,000 fine for destroying evidence after BP's 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In a court filing Thursday, Halliburton and prosecutors said the company's agreement to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge imposes "fair, just, and appropriate corporate punishment" and reflects its "full, truthful and ongoing cooperation" with the government's spill probe.

U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo will decide whether to accept the deal at a hearing in New Orleans scheduled for Sept. 19.

Halliburton was the cement contractor on the drilling rig that exploded, killing 11 workers, following the April 2010 blowout of BP's Macondo well. The fine that Halliburton agreed to pay is the statutory maximum for the charge it faces, destruction of evidence.

The company also has agreed to be on probation for three years and make a $55 million contribution to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, but that payment wasn't a condition of the plea deal. Halliburton won't face any other criminal charges in connection with the case, though individual employees could still be charged.

The destruction of evidence involved a post-spill review of the cement job on BP's well. Prosecutors said Halliburton's cement technology director in May 2010 directed a senior program manager to run computer simulations on centralizers, which are used to keep the casing centered in the wellbore.

The results indicated there was little difference between using six or 21 centralizers. The data could have supported BP's decision to use the lower number. The cementing technology director allegedly instructed the program manager to delete the results.

The program manager "felt uncomfortable" about the instruction but complied, according to prosecutors. "I did what I was told," the program manager later told another employee, Thursday's court filing says.

A different Halliburton employee also deleted data from a separate round of simulations at the direction of the cement technology director, who was acting without the authorization of the company, according to prosecutors.

Halliburton notified investigators from a Justice Department task force as soon as it discovered the deletion of data. "Overall, it is the Task Force's view that (Halliburton's) cooperation was exceptional," the filing says.

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