RRC says no evidence well has leaked
ALTAIR – More than a month after both a dark oily sheen and dead fish were found floating along the top of Skull Creek near Altair, the three state agencies involved in the investigation of the contamination have, separately, identified Inland Recycling’s Altair facility as being under investigation in connection with the contamination, identified type of substance discovered in the creek, and revealed their initial thinking concerning whether or not a sealed salt water injection disposal well near the site of the contamination was its cause.
The Texas Railroad Commission, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and Texas Parks & Wildlife Department are jointly investigating the matter, but each released separate statements to The Citizen covering different aspects of the investigation in response to written questions submitted by the newspaper.
TCEQ confirmed a local recycling company was under investigation in connection with the contamination.
“The TCEQ currently has an ongoing investigation of this matter and the Altair Recycling facility, which is located at 6254 Highway 71, Altair (Colorado County), Texas,” Martha Otero, TCEQ Media Relations Specialist told The Citizen in a written statement last Thursday.
The facility in question is owned by Inland Environmental, a company that recycles oil and gas waste and uses it to manufacture road paving materials.
The company, which was previously involved both hazardous waste and oil and gas waste recycling and disposal, had its salt water injection disposal well sealed in 2016 by the Railroad Commission for “failure to report disposal well volumes.”
Although TCEQ has named Inland’s Altair facility as a subject of its investigation, a spokesperson for the Texas Railroad Commission told The Citizen the commission has found no evidence that the facility’s capped well is the cause of the contamination in Skull Creek.
“At this time, the RRC has found no evidence of any leaks or pollution from the well,” said Ramona Nye, a spokesperson for the Texas Railroad Commission.
A spokesperson for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department provided the first confirmation that the contaminant discovered in Skull Creek was some type of petrochemical.
TPWD Spokesperson Julie Hagen said, “what appeared to be a weathered petroleum product,” was observed by TPWD’s staff between Texas 71 and the confluence of the Colorado River. Hagen said the agency did not yet have back final test results on the water or fish.
LOCAL COMPANY DENIES INVOLVEMENT
David Polston, founder and CEO of Inland Environmental, adamantly denies that his facility could be the culprit for the leaks, and says it is a geographic impossibility because the creek is “almost uphill” from his company’s facility.
“I don’t see any evidence that we contributed to that, or that we had anything to do with that,” Polston said in an interview with The Citizen on Friday.
“From where our facility is located, to get to Skull Creek, it’s a half a mile, and part of that is almost uphill,” Polston said.
Polston said if any pollution came from the Inland’s Altair facility, it would most likely be trapped in gravel pits full of water between the plant and Skull Creek, making it nearly impossible for the pollution to get to the creek.
The gravel pits Polston mentions are not owned by Inland or any of its affiliated companies.
“We are very concerned about this as well,” Polston said. “We all live here, and we immediately checked our systems and we didn’t find any evidence that we had anything to do with that,” he continued.
“We’ve been working with full cooperation with all the state agencies that have gotten involved in this and are continuing to work through everything,” he said.
Many unknowns remain concerning the investigation, including how long it will take to complete, and the chemical makeup of the substance found in the water.
Spokespersons for all three agencies emphasize their investigations are incomplete. None can provide a timeline for the completion of the investigation.
“There are on-going extensive investigations by the tree agencies and the agencies are in constant communication and collaboration,” said TCEQ’s Otero.
“The completed TCEQ investigation report will document any sampling activities conducted as well as any regulatory compliance findings under TCEQ’s jurisdiction,” Otero continued.
“Each investigation presents a unique set of facts and circumstances. We move forward as quickly as possible without compromising the accuracy or thoroughness of each investigation,” RRC’s Nye said.
“The investigation at Skull Creek is an ongoing, multiple agency effort aht has not been resolved,” TPWD’s Hagen said.
Hagen did note there had been no more fish kills reported in the creek since the initial February incident.