The former owner of a Youngstown-based company pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act by discharging brine into a tributary of the Mahoning River, said Steven M. Dettelbach, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
Benedict W. Lupo, 63, of Poland, Ohio, is scheduled to be sentenced on June 16.
The conduct took place between Nov. 1, 2012 and Jan. 31, 2013, according to court documents.
“We are pleased the defendant admitted to his actions, which caused great harm to the Mahoning River,” Dettelbach said “We will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute cases in which people pollute Ohio’s waterways.”
“Ben Lupo put his own business interests ahead of the health and safety of our citizens, natural resources and wildlife by repeatedly releasing or ordering the release of his company’s brine waste into the Mahoning River. He will now be held accountable for this terrible crime,” said Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
“As natural gas exploration continues, it must be done in a way that ensures the drilling byproducts are treated and disposed of safely and legally,” said Randall Ashe, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Ohio. “This case demonstrates that if companies and their owners skirt environmental laws, EPA will hold them accountable.”
“This incident is one of a small percentage of egregious environmental violations we see at Ohio EPA that must be prosecuted criminally,” Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler said. “This general disregard for the law will not be tolerated in Ohio and we will work with our partners at the local, state and federal agencies to make sure the responsible parties are held accountable. We especially appreciate the United States Department of Justice quickly assisting Ohio in this case and applying its more stringent laws regarding Clean Water Act violations. ”
According to the indictment and related court documents:
Hardrock Excavating LLC was owned by Lupo and located at 2761 Salt Springs Road in Youngstown. The company provided services to the oil and gas industry in Ohio and Pennsylvania, including the storage of brine and oil-based drilling mud used in hydrofracturing, or fracking.
There were approximately 58 mobile storage tanks at the facility and each holds approximately 20,000 gallons.
Lupo, who owns Hardrock, directed an employee to empty some of the waste liquid stored at the facility into a nearby wastewater drain on or about Nov. 1, 2012. Lupo directed the employee to conduct this activity only after no one else was at the facility and only after dark.
An employee, at the direction of Lupo, emptied some of the waste liquid at the facility into the nearby stormwater drain using a hose on numerous occasions over the next several months. The drain flowed into a tributary of the Mahoning River and ultimately into the Mahoning River.
The last time an employee emptied some of the waste liquid into the drain was on or about Jan. 31, 2013. The waste liquid that night included brine and drill cuttings. A sample of the discharge taken that night was black in color and a subsequent analysis showed the presence of several hazardous pollutants, including benzene and toluene.
This case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Brad Beeson following an investigation by the Ohio EPA, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, U.S. EPA, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Youngstown Department of Public Works and the Youngstown Fire Department.
The statutory maximum for violating the Clean Water Act is for individuals is three years in prison, one year of supervised release and a fine of $50,000 per day of violation or $250,000, whichever is larger.
Michael Guesman, 35, of Cortland, Ohio, previously pleaded guilty to his role in the crime and was sentenced last week to three years of probation and 300 hours of community service. The criminal case against Hardrock Excavating LLC remains pending.
The case remains under investigation.