The owner of a Youngstown-based company was sentenced to more than two years in prison for violating the Clean Water Act by dumping fracking waste into a tributary of the Mahoning River, said Steven M. Dettelbach, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
Benedict W. Lupo, 64, of Poland, Ohio, was found guilty earlier this year of one count of making an unpermitted discharge. U.S. District Judge Donald Nugent sentenced Lupo to 28 months in prison and fined him $25,000.
The illegal discharges took place more than 30 times between Nov. 1, 2012 and Jan. 31, 2013, according to court documents.
“Clean air and fresh water is the birthright of every man, woman and child in this state,” Dettelbach said. “Intentionally breaking environmental laws is not the cost of doing business, it's going to cost business owners their freedom.”
“Ben Lupo put his own interests ahead of everyone else’s, and he deserved to face a severe penalty for his actions,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said. “The recent water crisis in Toledo is a grave reminder of how important it is to protect our waterways. Those who commit crimes against the environment jeopardize the health and safety of Ohioans, and our natural resources and wildlife. They must be held accountable.”
“Discharging pollution into waterways is illegal and endangers human health, wildlife and the environment,” said Randall Ashe, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Ohio. “Oil and gas production must include safe, legal treatment and disposal of drilling byproducts. Today’s sentence reflects EPA’s commitment to protecting our natural resources and the communities that rely upon them.”
“This case highlighted a gap in Ohio law regarding the State’s ability to take strong legal action in response to intentional, egregious violations of clean-water regulations,” said Ohio EPA Director Craig W. Butler. “We are fortunate the U.S. Department of Justice used its legal authority to pursue felony 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 employees 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 employees to conduct this activity only after no one else was at the facility and only after dark.
The employees, at Lupo’s direction, 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.