Employees at a West Texas oilfield services company deliberately dumped hazardous waste containing acid into a city of Odessa manhole, harming the city’s water treatment operations, a police investigation and lawsuit allege.

A lawsuit filed by Ector County, TX, in 98th Civil Judicial District Court in Travis County also alleges that toxic liquids runoff from the property of Roywell Services Inc. (RSI) in Odessa has threatened the Colorado River. Ector County is in the Permian Basin region of West Texas and routinely ranks among the state’s top oil-producing counties, according to the Railroad Commission of Texas (see Shale Daily, Jan. 30).

After workers at the city of Odessa’s water treatment plant detected Xylene in the water, which was harming plant operations in January and February, an investigation showed the pollutant was delivered to the plant via a drainage system after entering a manhole. The Odessa Police Department was informed in late February that RSI employees “intentionally disposed of industrial hazardous waste directly into a city of Odessa manhole, which was located in their yard,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit cites interviews with an employee who said the manhole cover had been removed with company-owned equipment. “This work was allegedly completed at the direction of their manager (Manager 1). Employee 1 claims the lined pit contained a mixture of acid, chemicals and water. Employee 1 claims one of the owners of the company made threats against Employee 1 for reporting the incident and stated that RSI employees have been instructed to avoid police interviews.”

A second employee told police “that Manager 1 directed a transport truck containing 90 barrels of waste acid be released into the lined containment pit located on the premises. Later, some or all of the contents of that lined pit were dumped into the sanitary sewer line at Manager 1’s direction. Manager 1 instructed Employee 2 and Employee 3 to remove a manhole cover in the yard and pump a waste acid, chemical, and water mix directly in the system.”

The complaint goes on to say that the same manager later directed Employees 2 and 3 to dig a trench to funnel waste directly into the manhole. “Employee 2 stated that the acid was ‘hot,’ meaning he could see the mixture in the pit bubble and dissolve caliche rock and dirt that he threw in it.” Several employees showed police the location of the manhole on a satellite image and confirmed the same location on the company’s lot, the lawsuit says.

An inquiry to RSI’s corporate office in Houston Thursday was referred to an executive working in the company’s Taft, TX, office who did not return a phone call from NGI’s Shale Daily. Ector County attorney Scott Layh also did not respond to a phone message, and the attorney representing the county, Daniel Ray of Scott & Ray PLLC, declined to speak on the record.

According to a glossary on the website of Schlumberger (the company is not named in the lawsuit), “Xylene is an excellent solvent…It is used as a solvent and emulsion breaker in workover operations to clean up reservoirs. In drilling mud testing, a 50/50 xylene/isopropanol (IPA) mixture had been used to break oil-mud emulsions prior to titrations to measure alkalinity, chloride and calcium.”

RSI’s website says it “provides multiple services to drillers across Texas and Louisiana including cementing, hydraulic fracturing, acidizing & stimulation, acid mixing for frac tanks, vacuum truck services, a completion fluids plant, acid reclamation, frac tank leasing and sand hauling.”

The lawsuit further says that some of “the chemicals, acids or other liquids appear to have escaped” the company’s facility and entered into the unincorporated part of Ector County, potentially affecting the Monahans Draw, the Midland Draw and the Upper Colorado River as well.

The company violated the Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act and the Texas Clean Air Act, according to the lawsuit. Ector County is seeking unspecified civil penalties, attorney’s fees and court costs. The cause number is D-1-GV-14-000267 in Travis County District Court.