Halliburton Energy Services Inc. -- which originally denied responsibility for the 2010 disaster and repeatedly pointed fingers at well owner BP PLC -- agreed in a plea bargain it told employees at least twice after the spill to destroy 3-D computer simulations that would have helped clarify Halliburton's responsibility in the wellhead blowout, the department said.
Halliburton was a contractor involved in drilling the Macondo oil well that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico April 20, 2010, killing 11 people and destroying the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. The resulting oil spill leaked nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Halliburton, whose second-quarter revenue this year was $7.3 billion, agreed to pay the maximum allowable fine of $200,000 after agreeing to plead guilty to the criminal charge of deleting the simulation records created after the blowout of the Macondo well, located some 41 miles off the Louisiana coast.
Halliburton said the violation was a misdemeanor.
The company also agreed to be subject to three years of probation and promised to continue cooperating in the government's criminal investigation of the accident.
Halliburton said the plea deal ends the criminal investigation of the company related to the accident.
In addition to pleading guilty and paying the fine, Halliburton agreed to donate $55 million to the non-profit National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the government said.
All parts of the deal except for the $55 million donation must be approved by the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana, the Justice Department said.
The computer simulations Halliburton admitted destroying examined whether BP made an error before the disaster in using six instead of 21 devices known as centralizers, the government said.
Centralizers are external metal collars that helped stabilize the heavy metal drill pipe in the well hole.
Halliburton recommended BP use 21 centralizers, but BP decided to use six instead, in part because it would have taken additional time to find more, the government said.
But after the blowout, Halliburton looked into the cause and found out through simulations there was little difference between using six or 21 centralizers, the government said Thursday in the plea agreement.
Halliburton had contended BP made a serious error by not following its advice and using 21 centralizers, the Justice Department said.
A Halliburton program manager destroyed the results on company orders, the plea agreement said.
A more experience employee was then told to run computer simulations again. This employee reached the same conclusion.
The second employee was ordered to "get rid of" the simulations, the Justice Department said.
Halliburton took a $637 million charge against earnings this year to increase to about $1.3 billion money set aside for possible Macondo settlement costs.
Other companies, including BP and the rig owner TransOcean, have already reached deals with the Justice Department.