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TCEQ alleges Blackhorn Environmental has committed violations

Posted at 3:51 PM, May 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-12 18:13:10-04

ORANGE GROVE, Texas — The Texas Attorney General, on behalf of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, filed a petition and application for injunctive relief against Blackhorn Environmental Services.

The company received a permit in 2015 from the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) to operate a non-toxic waste disposal facility at its 232-acre site just outside of Orange Grove after months of hearings.

The facility opened in February 2019.

In the document obtained by KRIS 6 News, the TCEQ's civil lawsuit claims Blackhorn has violated the Texas Clean Air Act, Solid Waste Disposal Act and Texas Water Code.

In last month's filing, the TCEQ says that beginning in August 2019 until the suit was filed, 330 complaints have been received against the disposal facility from the surrounding community.

Additionally, investigators also documented 775 loads of industrial solid waste transported to, and accepted, at the Blackhorn Disposal Facility, according to the document.

"Blackhorn holds no TCEQ authorization to have stored or processed TCEQ-regulated waste at the Disposal Facility," the filing states.

TCEQ investigation
According to court filings, 775 loads of unauthorized industrial solid waste were accepted over 18 months.

According to the suit, TCEQ investigators asked to review site records in June of 2021. They were told records would be provided electronically.

The following month, "Blackhorn stated it would not provide the TCEQ the records," according to the filing.

In a written statement, Patricia Canales Bell, counsel for Blackhorn Environmental, says the company is aware of the lawsuit filed by the TCEQ, but has not yet been served.

"As you know, Blackhorn Environmental Services is a fully permitted facility and under the jurisdiction of the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) (...) To ensure our compliance, the RRC has been on site and conducted 30+ separate investigations of our facility since date of opening until now.

"The RRC has found Blackhorn to be in compliance with every aspect of the issued permit and in a recent, unanimous, decision, approved the application of Blackhorn Environmental Services, LLC for renewal of its commercial waste treatment, storage, reclamation, and disposal facility in Jim Wells County, Texas," Bell wrote.

In February of 2021, 6 Investigates spoke with residents near the facility, who had filed suit against the company, seeking in excess of $1 million in damages. They alleged emissions from the plant have caused health problems and made it difficult to enjoy their property.

That suit is ongoing, with a motion for continuance granted on April 7. In February, several plaintiffs' claims were dismissed by the court, with the exception of the claim involving private nuisance.

During an interview with Blackhorn officials by KRIS 6 News in 2021, they pointed to a record of inspections by the RRC showing total compliance with all regulations.

In addition, they said monitoring by the TCEQ has resulted in no reports of excessive emissions.

"We are the most technically advanced and thoroughly inspected railroad facility in the state of Texas," Blackhorn Vice President and Compliance Manager Cody Bates said in 2021.

Bell reaffirmed that statement Thursday.

"As we continue to operate, Blackhorn Environmental Services, LLC maintains the highest environmental standards and compliance with the laws and regulations mandated by the state of Texas," she said. "We are proud to provide essential services that safely and diligently support the South Texas Oil and Gas Industry in the community in which we serve."

KRIS 6 News also reached out to a spokesperson for the TCEQ, who said the agency could not comment, due to the pending litigation.

According to the recent court Attorney General filing, "from at least February 14, 2020, to present (...) Blackhorn emitted air contaminants from the Disposal Facility in a sufficient concentration and for sufficient duration as did or may have tended to adversely affect human health and/or interfere with the normal use and enjoyment of property on at least 99 occasions."

"Blackhorn looks forward to defending itself against the allegations brought by the TCEQ in Travis County, and fully expects to be found in compliance with all permits and administrative statues as applicable to our facility," Bell wrote in a statement.

The AG is requesting that Blackhorn immediately cease disposing, processing, storing, or accepting TCEQ-regulated waste at its site. Also, cease injecting TCEQ-regulated waste until Blackhorn obtains authorization to do so and cease discharging air contaminants.

The request for injunctive relief also requests multiple training requirements, plans for record-keeping, and a third-party audit, among other policies and procedures.

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