Ohio man pleads guilty to violating Clean water act by discharing waste into mahoning river
An Ohio man pleaded guilty today to one count of violating the Clean Water Act, said Steven M. Dettelbach, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
Michael L. Guesman, 34, of Cortland, Ohio, admitted to illegally discharging brine and oil-based drilling mud into a stormwater drain on numerous occasions. The drain flowed into an unnamed tributary of the Mahoning River and ultimately into the Mahoning River, according to court documents.
“Clean, fresh water is our greatest resource in Northern Ohio,” Dettelbach said. “We will aggressively investigate and prosecute cases in which people pollute Ohio’s streams, rivers and lakes.”
“Opening a valve and dumping brine and oil-based drilling mud into a river is inexcusable,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said. “We each have a role in keeping the state’s waters safe for all Ohioans and actions like this will not be tolerated.”
“The defendant admits that he dumped toxic, oil-based drilling mud into the Ohio River watershed. It saved time and money, but it also seriously threatened environment, wildlife and human health” said Randall Ashe, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Ohio. “Today’s plea should help protect the Mahoning and other rivers by deterring those who would turn America’s waterways into chemical dumping grounds.”
According to documents filed with the court related to the case:
Guesman was an employee of Hardrock Excavating LLC. The Hardrock facility was located in Youngstown, Ohio. The facility is within one mile of the Mahoning River.
Hardrock provided services to the oil and gas industry in Ohio and Pennsylvania, including the storage, treatment, and disposal of waste liquids generated from oil and gas well drilling operations. Prior to treatment or disposal these liquids were stored in tanks located at the facility. Each tank has an approximate capacity of 20,000 gallons.
Some of the waste liquids accepted by Hardrock included brine, flowback, and oil-based drilling mud. Brine is water with a high quantity of salt dissolved in it, flowback is the liquid left over as part of hydrofracturing ("fracking"), and oil-based drilling mud is a semi-solid slurry that contains petroleum products.
Starting on or about December 12, 2012, at the direction of the owner of Hardrock, Benedict W. Lupo, Guesman emptied some of the waste liquid being stored at the facility into a nearby stormwater drain. Lupo further directed that Guesman conduct this activity only after no one else was at the facility and after dark.
Over the next two months, on numerous occasions, at the direction of Lupo, Guesman emptied some of the waste liquid being stored at the facility into the nearby stormwater drain using a hose.
On or about January 31, 2013, was the last time Guesman emptied some of the waste liquid being stored at the facility into the nearby stormwater drain. The waste liquid emptied that night included a mixture of brine and oil-based drilling mud, according to court documents.
In total, Guesman emptied tanks at the direction of Mr. Lupo on approximately 24 different nights.
A sample of the discharge on the night of January 31, 2013, was obtained and analyzed. Analysis of the sample, which was black in color, showed the presence of several hazardous pollutants, including benzene and toluene.
The stormwater drain, into which the waste liquids had been discharged, flowed into an unnamed tributary of the Mahoning River, which is a waterway of the United States.
Federal charges against Lupo and Hardrock remain pending. Both were indicted earlier this year on one count of violating the Clean Water Act.
Guesman is scheduled to be sentenced on November 15, 2013.
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. For corporations, the statutory maximum is five years of probation and a fine of $50,000 per day of violation or $500,000, whichever is larger.
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.