Texas oil wholesaler, officials plead guilty to water charges

A Texas oil wholesaler and two of its executives pleaded guilty to violating the federal safe drinking-water law, the US Department of Justice said Apr. 16.

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Apr. 20 -- A Texas oil wholesaler and two of its executives pleaded guilty to violating the federal safe drinking-water law, the US Department of Justice said Apr. 16.

Texas Oil & Gathering Inc., its owner John Kessel, and its operations manager Edgar Pettijohn pleaded guilty to violating the Safe Drinking-Water Act for disposing of oil-contaminated wastewater from its refinery process at an underground injection well permitted to accept wastes only from exploration and production operations, DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division said.

It said the Alvin, Tex.-based company also pleaded guilty to conspiracy and violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) for disposing of waste at a facility that did not have a permit. The crimes took place from January 2000 through January 2003, DOJ said.

The defendants misrepresented that the wastewater it was disposing at a Rosasharon, Tex., injection well came from an oil well the company had leased and was developing when it actually came from various refinery and chemical liquids Texas Oil & Gathering had reclaimed, federal prosecutors said.

The government began to investigate after the well exploded and killed three workers. Although the defendants did not cause the blast, a closer review of waste in the well led to their prosecution, DOJ said.

It said that Texas Oil & Gathering faces a maximum $500,000 fine or twice the monetary gain or loss for the conspiracy count, and $50,000/day, twice the gain or loss, or $500,000, whichever is higher, for the RCRA count. Kessel and Pettijohn face up to 8 years in prison and a fine as high as $500,000, it added.

The pleas were entered in federal district court for Texas's southern district. Judge Keith P. Ellison scheduled sentencing for Sept. 15.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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