Last Tuesday, Anthony Badalamenti became the first person to enter a plea of guilty for crimes associated with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion that killed 11 workers and led to the most devastating offshore oil spill in petroleum history. Badalamenti, technology director for Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, was charged with destroying key evidence that shielded Badalamenti, his former employer, and other companies involved from potentially billions of dollars of blame. Despite damage estimates that currently exceed $40 billion and the substantial loss of life in this explosion, Badalamenti’s guilty plea can only amount to a maximum sentence of 1 year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Badalamenti oversaw the design and construction of the cement oil shaft that eventually ruptured causing 4.9 million barrels of oil to leak into the Gulf of Mexico. Shortly after the oil spill, Badalamenti directed his senior program manager to run computer simulations that would determine whether the rupture was caused by an inadequate amount of centralizers, devices that held Halliburton’s cement casing properly aligned in the wellbore, the quantity of which had been determined by BP.
Badalamenti ordered his senior program manager to delete every simulation and the data obtained therein. According to the Justice Department, Badalamenti also ordered another Halliburton employee to delete data taken from a different round of similar simulations. Despite Halliburton ultimately notifying investigators about Badalamenti’s actions, the simulations were never recovered and the evidence was effectively destroyed.
While Badalamenti is not the first or only person charged with a crime arising out the explosion, he is the first to enter a guilty plea. Fortunately for Badalamenti and the companies his crime has shielded, the maximum sentence is only 1 year in prison and a $100,000 fine. This does not seem like much of a disincentive or deterrent for companies facing billions of dollars in liability. They simply need to find a fall-guy willing to destroy the evidence and willing to face the punishment for a price. One would think that the price of such a fall-guy is well below $40 billion.