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A Youngstown-based company was fined $75,000 and ordered to make $25,000 in payments to the community for violating the Clean Water Act by dumping fracking waste into a tributary of the Mahoning River.
Hardrock Excavating LLC pleaded guilty to one count of making an unpermitted discharge.
The company’s owner, Benedict W. Lupo, was previously sentenced to 28 months in prison for ordering the illegal discharges, which took place more than 30 times between Nov. 1, 2012 and Jan. 31, 2013, according to court documents.
The community payment will be split between two agencies -- $12,500 each to the Friends of the Mahoning River and Midwest Environmental Enforcement Association.
“This company and its owner put profits ahead of the law,” said Steven M. Dettelbach, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. “Now they’re paying a price for their illegal actions. This sentence sends a message and the money from this case is used to stop would-be polluters.”
“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.”
“Both Ben Lupo and Hardrock Excavating deserved to pay for the damage they caused,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said. “My office helped investigate this case and we will continue to pursue others like it to make sure that those who intentionally harm the environment and human health are held accountable for their actions.”
“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.”
“Today’s plea is the next step related to an egregious Clean Water Act violation involving several participants,” said Ohio EPA Director Craig W. Butler. “We will continue to work with our partners at the local, state and federal agencies to make sure that public health and the environment is protected and responsible parties are held accountable.”
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, 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.