Environmental and Energy Law Blog

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Look at Groundwater Contamination in Texas

What is TCEQ doing to reduce groundwater contamination?

While cases of groundwater contamination in Texas have been on the decline over the last two decades, a recently published report showed that these incidents rose in 2015 compared to the previous year. In its annual "Joint Groundwater Monitoring and Contamination Report," the Texas Groundwater Projection Committee (TGPC) documented 276 new cases last year. This is slightly higher than in 2014, when the group reported 272 new cases of groundwater contamination.

Sources of Groundwater Contamination

While there are numerous sources of groundwater contamination, the leading culprits are oil and gas drillers, chemical manufacturers, gas stations, and even laundry and dry cleaning services. Moreover, the most common pollutants found were gasoline, diesel and petro-products. 

Of the 274 cases, oil and gas activities were tied to 50 new cases, even though drilling continues to slow down. Nonetheless, common pollutants left in the wake of these activities include chloride, benzene, and hydrocarbons.  The agency responsible for monitoring this area, The Texas Railroad Commission continues to grapple with 570 oil and gas contamination cases in a number of counties across the state.

Harris County, for example, has the largest number (37) of ongoing oil and gas-related contamination cases (37) while Kleberg County has 30, Nueces and Brooks Counties each have 21 and San Patricio had 15 according to the TGPC report.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality also has a hand in investigating groundwater contamination cases, and Harris County's petrochemical industry  is at the heart of more than 670 cases being reported to the TCEQ. Harris County is also joined by Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar and Travis Counties for groundwater cases being reported to TCEQ.

The Takeaway

Overall, state regulators are reportedly dealing with over 3,400 groundwater contamination cases, some of which date back to many years ago. Of these, more than one-third are still under investigation, while corrective action was planned or taken in about 900 cases. That being said, the total number of cases has fallen dramatically since 2000 and some observers note that this is the result of TCEQ regulatory programs that have been implemented over the years. 

Given that the state relies on groundwater for 60 percent of its water needs, this is a problem that regulators will continue to address. With that in mind, if your business is under investigation or has been ordered to take corrective action related to groundwater contamination, you should engage the services of an experienced health, safety and environmental attorney.

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