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BP's contractor to plead guilty in largest oil spill in U.S. history

A cement contractor of the oil giant BP agreed Wednesday to plead guilty to destroying evidence after BP's 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, local media reported.

The contractor, Halliburton Energy Services, was arraigned Wednesday in the U.S. city of New Orleans on a misdemeanour charge.

Although company attorneys pleaded not guilty during the arraignment, Halliburton has agreed to plead guilty to one count of destruction of evidence in a deal with the Justice Department, the report said.

The company, which constructed the cement casing of the well at the center of the disaster, also has agreed to pay the statutory maximum fine of 200,000 U.S. dollars, be on probation for three years and cooperate with the government's criminal investigation. A hearing is scheduled on Sept. 19.

Halliburton also said it would make a separate and voluntary contribution of 55 million U.S. dollars to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The destruction of evidence involved a post-spill review of the cement job on BP's well. Halliburton's cement technology director allegedly instructed a program manager to delete data related to centralizers that were used to keep the casing centered in the wellbore, which were unable to be recovered.

The casing is a steel pipe placed in a well to maintain its integrity. Centralizers are metal collars attached on the outside of the casing. Centralizers can help keep the casing centered in the wellbore.

Prior to the blowout, Halliburton had recommended to BP the use of 21 centralizers in the well, but BP decided to use six instead, the Justice Department said.

Halliburton's post-spill tests failed to back up its earlier suggestion.

Halliburton was BP's cement contractor on the Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded off Louisiana coast in April 2010. The accident claimed 11 lives and led to a blowout that lasted for almost three months and spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf, making it the largest offshore oil disaster in U.S. history.

[Source: Xinhua, Houston, 31Jul13]

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