Illegal dumping from both individuals and energy companies have bogged down the Permian Basin for years now. County officials have noticed an upswing in illegally dumped waste including cars, tires, yard waste and oil and gas by-products, but NineWest reports that it won’t be tolerated for much longer.
“There are some individuals and some companies as in any business, that take advantage of the situation,” said Paul Weatherby, General Manager with the Middle Pecos Groundwater Conservation District. “[They] save money, cut corners, whatever it takes to get rid of this oilfield waste.”
Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter also suspects cost and time play a role in the recent upswing in illegal dumping.
“Because it costs money and time to do it properly, they don’t want to do that,” Painter said. “They would just rather go out and dump it, because if you go out to the city dump to dump mattresses or anything like that, you have to pay them to go ahead and do it.”
Ricky George with the Ector County Environmental Enforcement Unit suspects the proliferation of careless dumping has to do with a cultural ambivalence to the waste.
“If you look around you town in West Texas, especially in West Odessa where we see a lot of our problems, it’s just a norm to live and just to dump your trash,” George said. “[They] just dump it on the side of the road, dump the oil on the side of the road, don’t pay disposal costs and the reason why is that nobody has ever enforced these rules.”
Pollution from irresponsibly disposed waste can attract vermin, breed mosquitos and contaminate wells and groundwater. With the gamut of health and safety hazards from the waste, county and state officials plan to impose strict fines or jail time on offenders.
“Fines on the federal side can be up to $10,000 a day until they get it cleaned up,” Painter said. “If they research it and they drill down, and can find a core sample to find out how deep it is, the penalty can be very, very sever. The cleanup can cost much more than just paying for the original dumping if they would have done it in the first place.”
Offenders also face both criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits. Witnesses of illegal dupming are encouraged to notify local authorities.