YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Ben Lupo, the former owner of D & L Energy who was accused of violating the federal Clean Water Act when he allegedly dumped brine water into the Mahoning River behind the company, is expected to change his plea Monday in U.S. Federal Court in Cleveland.
Lupo previously pleaded not guilty to the charge. It is unknown if he will plead no contest or guilty in the case.
Michael Guesman, a former employee of D & L and Hardrock Excavating, pleaded guilty in August to illegal dumping charges. As part of his plea agreement, Guesman had agreed to cooperate with prosecutors against Lupo.
Lupo could face up to three years in prison and the companies could face steep fines as penalties if convicted.
A field report by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency says Lupo told investigators he ordered brine dumps into the storm sewer on a “regular basis” and later said it he ordered the dumps at least six times between September 2012 and February 2013.
Ohio Department of Natural Resources inspectors caught Guesman dumping oilfield waste into the storm sewer on Jan. 31, 2013, after an anonymous tip led them to the Salt Springs Road complex that houses several of Lupo’s oil and gas industry-related companies.
He said the brine was “light water” that came from cleaning out frac tanks that stored a variety of fracking fluids.
Lupo said he tried to dispose the water in the Koontz well in Leavittsburg and the Peribeck well in New Lyme but the tanks were full, so he ordered they be dumped into storm drain that flowed into the Mahoning River, the report says.
EPA inspectors found oil and other chemicals in the Mahoning River, about one mile away, after the dump.
The state revoked all D & L and Hardrock licenses and D & L has filed for bankruptcy. The company is still fighting to have their licenses reinstated through a lawsuit in Franklin County Common Pleas Court in Columbus.
The state’s Oil and Gas Commission noted the license revocations “basically removed D&L Energy, Inc. from the brine disposal business” in order to protect the state’s water supplies.
Lupo at the time told investigators he ordered the oilfield waste dump that eventually made its way into the Mahoning River. Investigators believe he also ordered at least 20 similar dumps down a storm sewer that fed in to a Mahoning River tributary.