Jim Wells County commissioners oppose permit renewal for waste disposal facility

Robin Bradshaw
Alice Echo News Journal

The Jim Wells County Commissioners Court unanimously voted on a resolution last week opposing a permit renewal for a waste disposal facility in Orange Grove.

Jim Wells County Commissioners Court signed a resolution opposing the permit for Blackhorn Environmental LLC.

Blackhorn Environmental Services LLC. is located on 232 acres near County Road 308 and is a disposal waste facility that services the oil and gas industry. The company is permitted and regulated through the Texas Railroad Commission, which will decide on whether to renew its permit. 

A permit hearing is set for March 9.

The resolution asks that commission "carefully consider the concerns of the Jim Wells County citizens" related to the "potential for diminished health and safety and sub-surface water pollution, air emissions, heavy truck traffic and the possibility of waste spillage on roads, properties and rights of ways." 

Blackhorn's legal team released a statement in response to the resolution:

"Blackhorn Environmental Services is a citizen of Jim Wells County. The protections afforded to each citizen as mentioned in this resolution must also be provided to Blackhorn. As such, the Commissioner’s Court should protect Blackhorn from inaccuracies and falsehoods which attempt to disparage their reputation within the community, the South Texas Oil and Gas Industry and Oilfield Services Industry." 

Several neighboring residents that live close to the disposal waste facility have presented their environmental and safety concerns to commissioners. Complaints include hazardous road safety due to the traffic of large trucks traveling to and from the waste site facility and poor air quality resulting in continuous respiratory health issues.  

More:Residents near waste disposal facility fight permit renewal, company says it follows rules

Blackhorn officials maintain that all business practices are safe and not harmful to the public and that after  more than 30 investigations conducted by the commission, Blackhorn has met state standards and all the requirements under state law. 

However, the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which monitors air quality, cited Blackhorn last year and the investigation determined that offensive sour petroleum waste odors from Blackhorn Services Disposal Facility were found in "sufficient frequency, intensity, duration and offensiveness to interfere with normal use and enjoyment of property as well as adversely affect human health."

In December, Blackhorn released a statement related to the TCEQ investigation denying any wrongdoing.

"Blackhorn has not discharged any air contaminants in such concentrations and of such duration that could be injurious to human health or that would reasonably interfere with the normal use and enjoyment of animal life, vegetation, or property. No employees have reported health or safety issues while working in close proximity to waste materials in this facility."

Recurring complaints  have continued from area neighbors that repeat the same grievances of foul odors that have prompted nausea and respiratory issues, according to Blackhorn neighbors.  

Blackhorn Environmental LLC. in Jim Wells County.

The most recent concerns discussed during the  Feb. 26 commissioners court's meeting were the county's responsibility in case of an emergency. Orange Grove neighbors wanted answers on who is the point of contact for community transparency and to know the protocol in case of a fire or hazardous spill.

In another statement Blackhorn states that  Jim Wells County Environmental Officer Sgt. Ramon Delagarza and Sheriff Daniel Bueno would be the points of contact in case of an environmental emergency at the facility. 

"The first responders would address any explosion or emergency event at the Blackhorn facility and set up barriers and a public release statement on social media to help local residents close to the emergency site," Bueno said. "To date, we have not had any meetings with Blackhorn leaders to discuss a plan of action if an emergency arose but I welcome a meeting in the future to ensure the Orange Grove first responders and my staff as well as Blackhorn Environmental are all on the same page." 

RELATED COVERAGE

More:TCEQ investigates Blackhorn Environmental Services in Orange Grove

More:Orange Grove neighbors address safety concerns involving Blackhorn Environmental Services LLC.