Southco Enterprises, Inc. of Sherman, Texas, Ordered to Pay Penalties and Fines After Admitting it Unlawfully Stored Hazardous Waste
A west Texas gas plant has been ordered to pay a $3 million criminal fine, announced U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Chad E. Meacham.
Big Lake Gas Plant L.P., a subsidiary of West Texas Gas, Inc., pleaded guilty in September 2021 to one count of negligent endangerment and one count of violating the Clean Air Act. The company, represented by counsel, was sentenced Thursday by U.S. District Judge James Wesley Hendrix.
In plea papers, the company admitted that in April 2018, the plant negligently released approximately 525 pounds of hydrogen sulfide into the ambient air. (Hydrogen sulfide is a toxic gas that can compromise the human nervous system and respiratory tract and can cause life-threatening health effects if not handled properly.)
One employee, identified in court documents by the initials C.T., died as a result of exposure sustained while working at the plant. Another employee, identified by the initials G.T., was injured while trying to assist C.T.
The company further admitted that it knowingly failed to properly update its risk management plan following the incident, an update required by law.
“Big Lake’s flagrant disregard of federal clean air regulations had calamitous consequences,” said U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham. “Our prayers are with the family of the employee killed in the 2018 hydrogen sulfide incident. We hope today’s sentencing brings them a measure of peace.”
“The defendant’s willful and knowing disregard for federal safety regulations and industry practices placed both workers and the public at grave risk, resulting in a tragic and preventable fatality and release of dangerous gasses.” said Todd “Tony” Adams, Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge of the EPA’s Southwest Office criminal enforcement program. “EPA and its state partners continue to hold accountable companies that place workers, local communities, and the environment at risk.”
In a related civil case, five subsidiaries of Big Lake’s parent company, West Texas Gas, agreed to pay more than $3 million in civil penalties and to spend up to $5 million on compliance measures in order to resolve claims that it violated federal Clean Air Act chemical accident prevention requirements at plants in Texas and New Mexico.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Taylor prosecuted the criminal case against Big Lake. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ann Haag handled the civil case against West Texas Gas in partnership with the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. The Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement program investigated with the assistance of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's Environmental Crimes Unit and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.