There are more waste dumping facilities now than in the past, so now the traffic of waste haulers has dispersed to regions that previously didn’t have as much of it. McMullen County Sheriff Emmett Shelton is seeing more activity in that county; meanwhile, Live Oak County isn’t seeing any of it, according to Live Oak County Sheriff Larry Busby.
Dr. John Ockels, director of the Texas Illegal Dumping Resource Center, said very few cities and counties are aware this is a state criminal law. Ockels also said local government has a major role in enforcing these laws but thinks there is nothing they can do to protect their citizens.
Ockels said any oil and gas waste disposed of in an unauthorized site constitutes a health risk. He said the most common definition of a health risk is a “health nuisance” in the Texas Health and Safety Code 341.013-c.
“Drilling mud and cuttings spilled on a public road actually can result in a death from the related traffic accident,” Ockels wrote in an email to The Progress. “Any form of oil and gas waste dumped into or adjacent to water in the state (in violation of permits) can easily pollute that water and render it unfit for use, which is not only a health risk but a risk to the economy of the state. These are local enforcement issues.”
If permit violations result in water pollution, it becomes a crime. But it’s up to local governments to enforce the law, according to Ockels.
He believes all leaking and spilling occurs when haulers don’t follow the provisions of their Railroad Commission-issued waste haulers permit.
“The haulers most likely to do this are smaller, undercapitalized individuals and companies hauling this waste just to make a quick dollar,” Ockels wrote to The Progress. “Every major oil and gas operator I’ve met wants this waste to be properly carried and correctly disposed, but smaller, undercapitalized entities may not share these goals. Larger operators are often themselves from Texas and may even live in the area where the wells are drilled and operated. They certainly have no interest in being a bad neighbor to their fellow citizens; they strongly prefer extracting oil and gas resources in as responsible and clean a method as possible.”
Ockels attributed improper hauling and disposal of waste to local cities and counties not doing their part to control oil gas waste disposal laws. He said the Railroad Commission has administrative enforcement responsibilities and the Texas Legislature assigned criminal enforcement to local cities and counties.
“Given the resources that the Legislature has allocated to the Railroad Commission for administrative enforcement and the growth of the oil and gas industry in our state, it is simply no longer adequate for local governments not to step up to their responsibilities for enforcing state criminal laws,” Ockels wrote to The Progress. “They have a vital role to play in keeping their communities safe and clean.”