Federal officials arrested a former BP engineer on charges of obstruction of justice on Tuesday, in the first criminal charges filed in connection with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Kurt Mix, 50, a senior BP drilling engineer, allegedly destroyed hundreds of text messages sent to a supervisor that described high volumes of oil flowing from the ruptured well, located 5,000 feet underwater, according to a federal affidavit.

Mix "worked on internal BP efforts to estimate the amount of oil leaking from the well and was involved in various efforts to stop the leak," the Justice Department said in a press release.

Throughout the spill, BP consistently provided flow estimates to the government and public that were later revealed to be far lower than the actual discharge from the well. For the first two months of the spill, BP claimed that its best estimate for the flow from the well was between 1,000 to 5,000 barrels of oil per day.

The official government estimate, made using measurements directly from the wellhead, concluded that the flow was more than 50,000 barrels per day.

The criminal charges may validate concerns raised by scientists, elected officials and environmental groups that BP officials deliberately misled the government and the public about how much oil was leaking from the ruptured well.

Mix faces up to 20 years in prison on the felony obstruction of justice charges and up to $500,000 in fines, according to the Justice Department. Mix, who retired from BP in 2011, is scheduled to appear in federal court in Houston this afternoon.

BP released a brief statement in response to the charges on its website.

"We will not comment on the government's case against former BP employee Kurt Mix and we will continue cooperating in the Department of Justice's investigation," the company said.

BP added that it had "clear policies requiring preservation of evidence in this case" and said that it has undertaken "substantial and ongoing efforts to preserve evidence" in the criminal investigation into the spill.

During the spill, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Ma.), then-chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, repeatedly queried BP officials about the amount of oil flowing from the uncontrolled well, and pushed the company to release video of the leak, which quickly led to independent estimates that were far higher than those provided by BP.

In a statement Tuesday, Markey said that BP had a "policy of obfuscation" when it came to estimating the well's flow, and said that the company "may have had reason to know" that highly publicized efforts to plug the leak were doomed to failure before they were implemented.

"The courts will determine whether these actions were an obstruction of justice, but we already know that BP had a policy of obfuscation during the spill when it came to the amount of oil flowing out of the Macondo well," Markey said.

Jackie Savitz, a senior scientist with Oceana, an environmental group, said independent and government reports about BP's practices had shown a long history of deception by the company.

In drilling applications for the Deepwater Horizon well, she said, BP told government regulators that the company was fully prepared to handle an oil spill even larger than the one that resulted from the April 20, 2010 blowout. The company's assurances were proven disastrously wrong within days of the disaster.

"Anybody who thinks BP is credible is not paying attention," Savitz said.

The charges come just days after BP finalized a $7.8 billion settlement with over 100,000 businesses and individuals harmed by the spill.

But still looming for the company is a massive civil trial that pits BP and its corporate partners on the doomed Deepwater Horizon rig against the federal government and a half-dozen Gulf states.

Federal and state claims could yield penalties and fines totaling as much as $60 billion, legal experts said.

More criminal charges related to the spill could also be forthcoming. Investigations by the Coast Guard and an independent commission created by President Obama found that BP shared responsibility for the rig explosion with other contractors on the well, including Transocean, which owned the rig, and Halliburton, which poured the concrete designed to seal the well.

"The Deepwater Horizon Task Force is continuing its investigation into the explosion and will hold accountable those who violated the law in connection with the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history," said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in a statement Tuesday.

According to the criminal complaint, Mix, a senior drilling engineer with BP, was involved in efforts to stop the oil leak, which culminated with a high-stakes attempt over three days in late May 2010 to plug the well by injecting heavy fluids and other material into it from ships on the surface.

In October 2010, Mix allegedly deleted hundreds of text messages exchanged with a supervisor about the operation to plug the well, called "Top Kill" by company officials. The messages were deleted after Mix was informed that the contents of his phone were being sought by a contractor working for BP's attorneys. Mix had been repeatedly notified through official channels that he was to preserve all communications related to the spill, according to the government.

Those text messages indicated that the operation was failing because the flow of oil and gas from the well was too high to overcome from above, the criminal complaint said.

"Too much flowrate -- over 15,000 and too large an orifice," Mix wrote at 10:25 p.m. on May 26, the first day of the Top Kill operation. "Tired. Going home and getting ready for round three tomorrow."

In a press release, the Justice Department said that at that time, BP's public estimate of the flow rate was just 5,000 barrels per day, "three times lower than the minimum flow rate indicated in Mix's text." According to a report by the presidential commission investigating the spill, BP and outside engineers had concluded that the Top Kill operation would fail if the flow from the well was higher than 15,000 barrels per day.

In August 2011 Mix deleted more than 100 additional text messages that were exchanged with a BP contractor with whom he was working on issues related to the flow of oil from the well, the government said.

Throughout the spill, BP officials told Congress and the public that the company lacked the technical ability to measure flow from the deep-sea gusher. The company maintained that its best estimate of the spill was based on surface measurements and was roughly 5,000 barrels per day, according to senior government officials involved in the spill response.

In August 2011, however, an oil industry consultant who was directly involved in the effort to plug the well at BP's U.S. headquarters in Houston told The Huffington Post that BP had data in early May indicating that the well flow rate was "much higher" than 5,000 barrels per day.

"Our calculations suggested to us that it was much higher than the number that was being talked about," said the consultant, who requested anonymity because of his proximity to pending litigation over the disaster.

The top kill operation had a "very, very low likelihood of working based on the volumes we were seeing from the well," he added.

Before and during the late May attempt to plug the well, former BP chief executive Tony Hayward declared publicly that the top kill operation had a 60 to 70 percent chance of success.

This story is developing.

Gulf Oil Spill DOJ Affidavit


Gulf Oil Spill DOJ Complaint

Images From The Oil Spill:
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  • Gulf Coast Battles Continued Spread Of Oil In Its Waters And Coastline

    PORT FOURCHON, LA - JULY 03: Workers clear off some of the oil washing on to Fourchon Beach from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on July 3, 2010 in Port Fourchon, Louisiana. Millions of gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion on the drilling platform. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • In this June 5, 2010, file photo Plaquemines Parish coastal zone director P.J. Hahn lifts his boot out of thick beached oil at Queen Bess Island in Barataria Bay, just off the Gulf of Mexico in Plaquemines Parish, La. After three long months, the bleeding from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico has been finally, mercifully stanched. But in so many ways, the prognosis remains uncertain. (Gerald Herbert, AP)

  • Mississippi River water (L) meets sea wa

    Mississippi River water (L) meets sea water and an oil slick that has passsed inside of the protective barrier formed by the Chandeleur Islands, as cleanup operations continue for the BP Deepwater Horizon platform disaster off Louisiana, on May 7, 2010. The Gulf of Mexico oil slick threatens disaster for the fragile US coast, causing clean-up efforts to focus on the best of a bad set of options: fight it there before it arrives here. An army of workers hired by British Petroleum, along with the US Coast Guard and local officials in Louisiana, have rushed to set out protective booms, spread dispersants and burn the oil when they can as it moves toward the shore. The strategy is to deal with the growing slick as much as possible before it laps into wetlands on Louisiana's coast, where its effects could be catastrophic and cleaning it is infinitely more difficult if not impossible. AFP PHOTO/Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • An American flag lays in a slick of oil that washed ashore from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on July 4, 2010 in Gulf Shores, Alabama. The oil spill may have a huge negative economic impact on gulf coast businesses during what should be a busy 4th of July. Millions of gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion on the drilling platform. (Joe Raedle, Getty Images)

  • In this April 21, 2010 file photo taken in the Gulf of Mexico more than 50 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana's tip, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig is seen burning. A BP scientist identified a previously unreported deposit of flammable gas that could have played a role in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but the oil giant failed to divulge the finding to government investigators for as long as a year, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Associated Press. (Gerald Herbert, AP)

  • In this May 5, 2010 file photo, shrimp boats are used to collect oil with booms in the waters of Chandeleur Sound, La. (Eric Gay, AP)

  • In this June 3, 2010 file photo, a bird is seen on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast after being drenched in oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the federal government's point man on the disaster, said Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010, BP's well "is effectively dead." A permanent cement plug sealed BP's well nearly 2.5 miles below the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico, five agonizing months after an explosion sank a drilling rig and led to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. (Charlie Riedel, AP)

  • This May 28, 2010 image taken from a BP live video feed shows fluid escaping from a fractured pipe which has been spouting oil for 36 days on the seabed off the Louisiana coast following the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform. The United States filed suit on December 15, 2010 against BP and eight other companies for damages stemming from this year's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst in US history. The complaint was filed by the Justice Department with a federal court in New Orleans, where thousands of individuals and small businesses have already sued the oil giant. (AFP / Getty Images)

  • Massive Oil Slick Threatens U.S. Gulf Coast

    GULF OF MEXICO- MAY 5: Gathered concentrated oil burns during a controlled oil fire May 5, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. Coast Guard oversaw the oil burn after the sinking and subsequent massive oil leak because of the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform off the coast of Louisiana. (Photo by Justin E. Stumberg/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)

  • In this aerial photo taken in the Gulf of Mexico, more than 50 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana's tip, an oil slick is seen as the Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns. (Gerald Herbert, AP)

  • BP CEO Tony Hayward (C) answers questions from the media on an oil-stained beach on May 24, 2010 at Port Fourchon, Louisiana. Hayward said that BP is doing everything possible to clean up the massive oil spill still gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. Officials now say, however, that it may be impossible to clean the hundreds of miles of coastal wetlands and islands affected. (John Moore, Getty Images)

  • A brown pelican covered with oil from th

    A brown pelican covered with oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, swims at Sandy Point in the Gulf of Mexico, near Venice, Louisiana, June 15, 2010, prior to being captured by team of biologists from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Birds are caught and then cleaned at the Fort Jackson Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Gulf Coast Battles Continued Spread Of Oil In Its Waters And Coastline

    GULFPORT, MS - JULY 1: An Oil cleanup worker uses a shovel to remove thick oil that washed ashore from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on July 1, 2010 in Gulfport, Mississippi. Millions of gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion on the drilling platform. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • In this June 3, 2010 file photo, a brown pelican is mired in heavy oil on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast. Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the federal government's point man on the disaster, said Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010, BP's well "is effectively dead." A permanent cement plug sealed BP's well nearly 2.5 miles below the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico, five agonizing months after an explosion sank a drilling rig and led to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. (Charlie Riedel, AP)

  • Massive Oil Slick Reaches Louisiana Gulf Coast

    VENICE, LA - MAY 02: Oil spill workers head out to their boats as they prepare to help with the cleanup of the massive oil spill created in the aftermath of the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig May 2, 2010 in Venice, Louisiana. High winds and rough water have slowed the cleanup effort. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • A man cleans a beach May 4, 2010 in Bilo

    A man cleans a beach May 4, 2010 in Biloxi, Mississippi, as the gulf coast is still being threatened by the oil spill from the BP Deepwater Horizon platform disaster. AFP PHOTO/Stan Honda (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • U.S. President Barack Obama picks up balls of tar while touring the beach May 28, 2010 in Port Fourchon, Louisiana. The oil spill resulting from the Deepwater Horizon disaster now officially ranks as the worst in U.S. history. (Win McNamee, Getty Images)

  • Hermit crabs struggle to cross a patch of oil from the the Deepwater Horizon spill on a barrier island near East Grand Terre Island, La, Sunday, June 6, 2010. (Charlie Riedel, AP)

  • Workers put the finishing touches on the

    Workers put the finishing touches on the Pollution Control Dome at the Martin Terminal worksite in Port Fourchon, as BP rushes to cap the source of the oil slick from the BP Deepwater Horizon platform disaster in Louisiana, on May 4, 2010. BP delayed until May 5 the deployment of a giant 'dome' to try to contain the main leak spewing crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The British energy giant now plans to load the 98-ton structure onto a boat at 'noon tomorrow' before shipping it out to the leak site. The dome, which is to be guided onto the largest of three oil leaks by remote-controlled submarines a mile down on the seabed, should be 'operational within six days,' Suttles said. Two weeks after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the full impact of the disaster is being realized as a massive slick looms off the US Gulf coast, threatening to wipe out the livelihoods of shoreline communities. AFP PHOTO/Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A dead fish is seen on the beach May 5,

    A dead fish is seen on the beach May 5, 2010 in Pass Christian, Mississippi as the gulf coast is still threatened by the oil spill from the BP Deepwater Horizon platform disaster. Emergency crews rushed to protect fragile shorelines and islands as the Gulf of Mexico oil slick expanded, prompting a mobilization of more national guard troops and alerts as far as the Florida Keys. With oil still gushing Wednesday from the ruptured offshore well, volunteers and others descended on the region to help stave off a looming environmental crisis from the huge oil patch. AFP PHOTO/Stan Honda (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Seagulls and other birds fly past oil booms that were placed in preparation of the looming oil spill from last week's collapse and spill of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, Saturday, May 1, 2010, along the North Shore south of Venice, Louisiana. Wildlife in the region is vulnerable to the looming oil spill from last week's collapse and spill of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. (Eric Gay, AP)

  • Bayou Candlelight Vigil Marks 100 Days Since BP Oil Spill

    GRAND ISLE, LA - JULY 29: Local residents gather near an oil processing area on the beach to commemorate 100 days of the BP oil spill on July 29, 2010 in Grand Isle, Louisiana. Eleven lives were lost and three to five million barrels of oil have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico since the BP Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20, 2010. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

  • Eric Melerine sheds tears as he talks about possibly losing his fishing business, that has been in the family for genertions, if he can't continue to work because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on May 1, 2010 in Delacroix, Louisiana. As oil-polluted waters approach the Louisiana coast, fishermen don't want to take chances selling possibly contaminated crabs so they are pulling their traps and dumping their catches. Oil is still leaking out of the Deepwater Horizon wellhead at a estimated rate of 1,000-5,000 barrels a day. (Joe Raedle, Getty Images)

  • Massive Oil Spill's Damage To Gulf Environment And Economy Increases

    WAVELAND, MS - JULY 09: An oil coated containment boom is seen close to the shore after it was moved out of place during the high winds and waves in the past days which brought oil ashore from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico July 9, 2010 in Waveland, Mississippi. Millions of gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion on the drilling platform. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • Massive Oil Spill's Damage To Gulf Environment And Economy Increases

    WAVELAND, MS - JULY 09: A worker uses a shovel to pick up oily globs that washed ashore from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico July 9, 2010 in Waveland, Mississippi. Millions of gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion on the drilling platform. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • One of the New harbor Islands is protected by two oil booms against the oil slick that has passsed inside of the protective barrier formed by the Chandeleur Islands, as cleanup operations continue for the BP Deepwater Horizon platform disaster off Louisiana, on May 10, 2010. Days after failing to contain the Gulf of Mexico oil spill with a giant dome, BP said it will make a second attempt this week using a smaller version dubbed the "top hat." A four-story, 100-ton box was lowered Friday to the seabed to try to capture most of the oil and allow it to be funneled up to a ship on the surface, but it was rendered useless on Sunday when ice crystals formed in its domed roof. BP experts believe the smaller "top hat" containment box would not suffer the same problem as it would not hold so much freezing cold seawater, and they are preparing to drop it into the inky depths to carry out a similar fix to what is unfolding as one the worst oil spills in US history. (Mark Ralston, AFP / Getty Images)

  • Gulf Coast Battles Continued Spread Of Oil In Its Waters And Coastline

    GULFPORT, MS - JULY 1: Thick oil is seen washed ashore from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on July 1, 2010 in Gulfport, Mississippi. Millions of gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion on the drilling platform. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • Gulf Coast Battles Continued Spread Of Oil In Its Waters And Coastline

    ORANGE BEACH, AL - JUNE 27: Workers place absorbent material on to the beach as oil residue washes ashore from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on June 27, 2010 in Orange Beach, Alabama. Millions of gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion on the drilling platform. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • Massive Oil Spill's Damage To Gulf Environment And Economy Increases

    WAVELAND, MS- JULY 09: Workers clean up oily globs that washed ashore from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico July 9, 2010 in Waveland, Mississippi. Millions of gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion on the drilling platform. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • Gulf Coast Battles Continued Spread Of Oil In Its Waters And Coastline

    ORANGE BEACH, AL- JUNE 27: Pete Duchock holds his daughter, Maddie Duchock, as they stand near oil residue that has stained the beach after washing ashore from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on June 27, 2010 in Orange Beach, Alabama. Pete Duchock said his daughter cried after seeing the oil washing ashore when they arrived for their vacation. Millions of gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion on the drilling platform. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • Gulf Coast Battles Continued Spread Of Oil In Its Waters And Coastline

    ORANGE BEACH, AL - JUNE 26: A beach goer walks on the beach where oil is seen in the water as it washes ashore from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on June 26, 2010 in Orange Beach, Alabama. Millions of gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion on the drilling platform. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • BP CEO Tony Hayward Testifies Before House Hearing On Oil Spill

    WASHINGTON - JUNE 17: BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward is sworn in before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee for a hearing on the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill June 17, 2010 in Washington, DC. BP agreed yesterday to place $20 billion into an escrow account managed by a third party to pay out claims resulting from the oil spill and also said it will not pay out additional dividends to shareholders for the remainder of the year. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

  • Congress Holds Hearings On BP Oil Spill

    WASHINGTON - JUNE 17: A protester is escorted from the hearing room after disrupting the hearing of BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward (R) on the Gulf Coast oil spill on Capitol Hill June 17, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • Members of AnimaNaturalis with their bod

    Members of AnimaNaturalis with their bodies covered with black paint protest against the oil spill of BP's drilling well in the Gulf of Mexico, on July 22, 2010 in Mexico city. Demostrators aim to alert people about the animals dying because of the oil spill and call to use less petrol. AFP PHOTO/ Omar TORRES (Photo credit should read OMAR TORRES/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Bayou Candlelight Vigil Marks 100 Days Since BP Oil Spill

    GRAND ISLE, LA - JULY 29: Cacinda Voisin (C) holds a balloon to comemorate the eleven lives lost and 100 days of the BP oil spill on July 29, 2010 in Grand Isle, Louisiana. Three to five million barrels of oil have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico since the BP Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20, 2010. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

  • Crosses with descriptions of fish, wildl

    Crosses with descriptions of fish, wildlife and summer pastimes are displayed in a front yard of a home in Grand Isle, Louisiana, June 14, 2010, of things potentially lost to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A support ship related to the collection

    A support ship related to the collection of oil from over the site of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil well transitions through a sheen of oil as workers try to stem the flow of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, June 12, 2010. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Thick oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon

    Thick oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill floats on the surface of the water and coats the marsh wetlands in Bay Jimmy near Port Sulphur, Louisiana, June 11, 2010. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Oil covered brown pelicans found off the

    Oil covered brown pelicans found off the Louisiana coast and affected by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico wait in a holding pen for cleaning at the Fort Jackson Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Buras, Louisiana, June 11, 2010. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The glove-covered hands of Dan Howells,

    The glove-covered hands of Dan Howells, deputy campaign director with Greenpeace, are coated with a layer of oil after he dipped them in oil floating on the surface in the Gulf of Mexico following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill near Grand Isle, Louisiana, June 10, 2010. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Also On The Huffington Post...

    A 2-foot-wide pipe in the Gulf of Mexico was ejaculating oil to the tune of half a million gallons a day. We went down to Louisiana over Memorial Day to see some of the damage this caused on the people and the environment.


CORRECTION: Rep. Markey was the chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, not House Natural Resources.