By Matt Smith
Oilfield services giant Halliburton pleaded guilty Thursday to destroying test results that investigators had sought as evidence in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and federal prosecutors announced a related charge against one of its executives.
In a federal court in New Orleans, Halliburton admitted to throwing out test results on the design of the well at the heart of the disaster. The company was given the maximum fine of $200,000 on the charge, the Justice Department said.
In announcing the plea, the Justice Department also announced that it was accusing Anthony Badalamenti, who was Halliburton's cementing technology director at the time of the blowout, with a single count of destroying evidence.
Halliburton and well owner BP are still battling in court over responsibility for the April 2010 disaster. Halliburton, as the cement contractor on the well, says it told BP to use more devices to center the cement casing in the well but BP ignored its advice.
The issue has been a key point of contention between the two companies in hearings and litigation ever since. But prosecutors accused Halliburton of running computer simulations in May and June 2010 that showed "little difference" between the 21 centralizers it says it recommended and the six BP eventually used -- and then destroying the results.
Thursday's charge against Badalamenti alleges that he gave the order to destroy the results. Efforts to contact him for comment were not immediately successful.
The Deepwater Horizon blowout killed 11 rig workers and unleashed the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. The federal government estimates more than 200 million gallons poured out of the ruptured well, located nearly a mile underwater off southeastern Louisiana. The environmental effects of the disaster are still being determined, and BP says it has paid out $32 billion for cleanup, compensation and penalties.
In 2011, BP accused Halliburton of destroying evidence -- including "inexplicably missing" computer modeling results -- "to eliminate any risk that this evidence would be used against it at trial."
Halliburton is the last of the three major players to admit criminal wrongdoing in the 2010 blowout and resulting oil spill. BP has admitted to manslaughter and 13 other criminal counts and agreed to pay $4 billion in fines, while Transocean, owner and operator of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, admitted to violating the Clean Water Act and paid $1.4 billion in civil and criminal penalties.
A federal report in 2011 concluded that BP, Halliburton and Transocean all violated federal offshore safety regulations and shared responsibility for the disaster.
CNN's Chris Boyette contributed to this report.
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