HOUSTON, Texas – The owner of a hazardous waste transport company and his operations manager face federal charges for their roles in a conspiracy to illegally transport and dispose of hazardous waste underground. Their alleged misuse of an underground injection well may have contaminated drinking water.

The men were arraigned Friday in U.S. District Court in Houston. They are charged with 14 felony counts including conspiracy, violating the Safe Drinking Water Act and violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which regulates storage, transportation and disposal of hazardous wastes.

John Kessel, the president and owner of Texas Oil and Gathering, Inc., and Edgar Pettijohn, the company’s operations manager, were arrested and charged with illegally disposing of hazardous waste at a facility only approved to take oil and gas production waste.

Texas Oil and Gathering, Inc., a licensed hazardous waste transporter and used oil handler, was also named in the indictment.

Kessel and Pettijohn allegedly conspired to purchase hazardous waste from multiple generator facilities and process it at their Texas Oil and Gathering facility in Alvin, 12 miles southeast of Houston.

The men then sold portions of the waste as a fuel additive, and allegedly directed their employees to transport the remaining hazardous waste, disguised with documents indicating the waste was from an oil production well, to Disposal Facility A.

This facility is not permitted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to accept, store or dispose of hazardous material.

Once at Disposal Facility A, the hazardous waste allegedly was disposed into Class II injection wells in violation of the law.

Class II injection wells are for disposing of saltwater or brine that is produced when oil and gas are extracted from the Earth. It is illegal to dispose of anything other than these fluids through Class II wells.

The Safe Drinking Water Act prohibits the unauthorized use of these injection wells to prevent contamination of drinking water sources.

In furtherance of the conspiracy, Kessel and Pettijohn allegedly falsified bills of lading and trip tickets which misrepresented the origin and type of waste they were transporting.

If convicted of all charges, Kessel and Pettijohn each faces five years in prison, and the business faces fines of up to $7 million.

The investigation was conducted by the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division, the Texas Environmental Task Force, the Houston Police Department, and the Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General.

The prosecution is being handled by the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section.

This is not the first time Texas Oil and Gathering has been in trouble with the EPA. In 1999, the company settled with the federal agency for selling diesel fuel with an illegally high proportion of sulfur. While denying the allegations, the company paid a civil penalty of $6,300.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.