Ector County Cracking Down on Environmental Enforcement After Roywell Dumping

Ector County Cracking Down on Environmental Enforcement After Roywell Dumping

Anum Valliani

NewsWest 9

ECTOR COUNTY - An oil service company in Odessa is under the microscope; Ector County is suing Roywell Services Incorporated. The lawsuit claims the company dumped toxic chemicals into the city's sewer, causing all kinds of issues for the city's wastewater treatment plant. Officials are now questioning who's responsible for preventing that kind of crime.

"It's kind of a grey area," according to Ector County Judge Susan Redford. She said the Environment Enforcement Department came to a dead end when they reached out to other agencies like the Texas Railroad Commission to inquire.

"You could talk to three different people and hear three different answers. So that really showed what we suspected all along. That it's just an evolving area of the law, and as the problems increase, no one really knows how to handle them or who's supposed to handle them. So it's incumbent upon us to do what we have to do," she said.

So the county has stepped up and cracked down. Recently, they've doubled the number of full time environmental enforcement officers from one to two and also added some part time workers from the Sheriff's Office. They also want to ensure that violators are criminally and civilly prosecuted. That includes suing Roywell Services.
"To my knowledge, this is the most severe case that we've encountered. The effects of this particular dumping incident is probably the most severe we've seen because obviously this one got into the city's water supply system," Redford said.

According to the lawsuit, multiple employees claim a manager directed workers to dump barrels of waste acid into a manhole at the company's site. Documents say one of the employees even saw the acid was so "hot" that he could see rock and dirt bubble and dissolve when he threw it into the pit. The measures taken to illegally dump the waste were also noted. Initially, workers said company equipment was used to pry open the manhole cover.

Later, a trench was dug to directly funnel the chemicals into the manhole and go straight into the city drain. The mix contained the chemical Xylene, which caused problems with the city's wastewater treatment plant. Specifically it killed some bacteria that is fundamental in treating waste water. So the murky water that used to flow smoothly through the plant is now topped with some dark brown sludge clogging up the process.

The actions violated multiple public health and environmental protection laws, including the Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act and the Texas Clean Air Act.

But Redford, has one question in favor of the company under scrutiny. "If we can't figure out who's regulating them, how are they supposed to know either?"

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality could be evaluating whether Roywell Services needs their permission to continue operating in Odessa.

"We have to do the best job we can to make sure the industry continues but that it does so in a safe manner that doesn't put our future and the future of our families in harm," she said.

Ector County has requested at least $200,000 in settlement. The investigations for both criminal and civil cases are ongoing.