Halliburton Co, the second-largest oilfield service company in the world, has agreed to plead guilty to destroying evidence related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, aka the rupture of the BP-owned Macondo oil well which caused 11 deaths and released 4.9 million barrels of oil into the ocean over the course of 87 days. Prior to the spill and rupture, Halliburton recommended to BP that its well contain 21 centralizers (metal collars that can improve cementing) but BP ultimately chose to use just six. The US Department of Justice said that Halliburton ordered workers to destroy computer simulations that showed little difference between using six and 21 centralizers. In additional to the maximum $200,000 statutory fine, and the voluntary $55 million payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Halliburton has also agreed to three years of probation. (All for destroying evidence that its own very expensive advice is inconsequential.)
So what does probation mean for a giant corporation facing criminal charges? It means the Department of Justice will use either a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) or Non-Prosecution Agreement (NPA) to negotiate fines with Halliburton, while ensuring that the company will avoid being indictment for criminal activities. In 2012, the DOJ negotiated a near-record 36 PDAs and NPAs, which brought in $9 billion dollars; $1.9 billion of which came from Britain’s biggest bank HSBC. The bank was charged with helping Mexican drug traffickers and US-blacklisted nations including Iran and Libya launder money in the US. HSBC is on probation for five years, after which the US will seek to dismiss the case.