West Texas county sues Odessa oil service company for dumping chemicals

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by BYRON HARRIS

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WFAA

Posted on March 11, 2014 at 10:22 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 12 at 5:22 PM

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ODESSA, Texas -- Ector County in West Texas is suing an Odessa oil services company for as much as $1 million in fines for allegedly dumping thousands of gallons of toxic oil field chemicals down Odessa city sewers.

The suit charges Roywell Services, which services existing oil wells in six locations in Texas, with pumping  xylene acid and other chemicals down a manhole cover on its property. The manhole connects to the Odessa city sewer.

The lawsuit cites three Roywell employees, interviewed by Odessa police, as having been told to pump the chemicals on the orders of an unnamed manager.

The chemicals were stored in a waste pit on the property which was “hot,” according to one employee interviewed by police, meaning the chemicals were toxic. The employee told police he could see the chemicals bubbling, and that dirt and rocks thrown into the waste pit would dissolve.

The suit alleges approximately 90 fluid barrels of waste - about 3,000 gallons - were pumped into the sewer in January of this year.

Officials at the Odessa wastewater treatment plant began noticing problems as long as thirteen months ago.

The bacteria used to digest solids in wastewater began dying  Assistant Director Ben Jordan said the "bugs" are killed by xylene.

“Once you start killing the bugs, the whole process turns off,” Jordan said. A quarter-mile long circular canal used process wastewater became choked with pillows of waste, he said. The city was fined $6,500 by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for violating wastewater standards.

The Ector County lawsuit seeks to recoup those fines from Roywell and levy additional penalties for what the company allegedly did.

Included are leaks of Roywell’s on-site waste pit, which appear to be visible from Google Earth photos taken last year. They show streaks leading from the pit, across the company’s parking lot, and to a drainage ditch off the property. That ditch flows into the Monahans trace and eventually the Upper Colorado River, which provides drinking water for municipalities.

The water treatment plant samples its effluent and sends them to the state for analysis. They now appear to be back up to snuff, Jordan said, but earlier in the year exceeded EPA standards for xylene.

The suit was filed on Friday and was served to Roywell on Tuesday. The company did not return phone calls requesting comment.

E-mail bharris@wfaa.com

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