Texas Oil Company and Executives Guilty of Violating Safe Drinking Water Act

Published on April 27th, 2009 | by

Texas Oil and Gathering Inc., its owner John Kessel, and its operations manager Edgar Pettijohn, plead guilty to conspiracy and violating the Safe Drinking Water Act for illegally dumping refinery wastes at an underground injection well.

Photo: blmurchOil Well
Oil Well

“The defendants tried to make an illegal end run around our environmental laws in order to increase their bottom line. These guilty pleas serve as a reminder that senior company executives who decide to commit environmental crimes will be prosecuted–not just the company.” – Warren Amburn, Special Agent-in-Charge of EPA criminal enforcement office, Dallas

The case, heard in U.S. District Court in Houston, covers crimes that were committed from January 2000 to January 2003 at an injection well in Rosharon, Texas. Both the owner, John Kessel, and the operations manager, Edgar Pettijohn, face up to eight years in prison and fines up to $500,000.

The charges came about from the company’s fraudulent representation of the source of the wastewater going into the injection well. Texas Oil stated that the water came from an oil well being developed, but the wastewater actually came from the company’s reclamation process, which involves distilling various liquids from refineries and chemical plants. The accepted water for class II injection wells is primarily brine with some crude oil, but the reclamation water actually injected in this case contained other chemicals, such as higher concentrations of toluene and xylen.

“The Safe Water Drinking Act and the regulations overseeing oil and gas related injection wells are designed to ensure safe sources of drinking water. Violations of these laws will be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” – John C. Cruden, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

The Alvin, TX, based company faces a maximum fine of $500,000 for the conspiracy count and $50,000 per day for violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (disposing hazardous waste at an unpermitted facility). The sentencing hearing is set for September 15, 2009.

“We remain committed to protecting the precious natural resources of Texas and hope that today’s conviction sends a clear message to everyone in the industrial community that the government will investigate and prosecute anyone who attempts to circumvent our nation’s anti-pollution laws.” – Tim Johnson, Acting U.S. Attorney, Southern District of Texas


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3 comments

  • So glad to see that the EPA is sticking up for clean water in the courts. Great article, Derek.
    Interesting quote:
    “…senior company executives who decide to commit environmental crimes will be prosecuted–not just the company.” – Warren Amburn…”
    I’ll be interested to see how far this pendulum swings back in the way of prosecution for decades-old abuses.
    Any word on other cases pending or happening?

  • It is unfortunate that this has happened, however, in the defense of the owner…I know personally that he is very environmentally concious. I understand that there are laws to keep our environment clean and our drinking water pure, or as pure as its gonna get. Im sure that there is more to this story than the media is letting on. I am the ex-daughter-in-law of John and even though things happen in life that cause mishaps, I will stand by them and show my support no matter what. These are God loving people who will do and have done quite a bit for the Galveston and Harris Co. communities. For some reason the good people do arent always acknowledged, yet you make a mistake or two and it is brutally posted all over the media. Why not tell the whole story? Why not advertise the fact that this man sends several kids to camp every year? That this man gives to the needy, and NOT just at Christmas? I say “GOD BLESS THE KESSEL FAMILY!” You are all in my prayers and thoughts.

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