ERIE, Pa. - A resident of Pleasantville, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty in federal court to a charge of making false statements in matters relevant to permits issued under the Safe Drinking Water Act, United States Attorney David J. Hickton announced today.
Ronald A.Wright, 45, pleaded guilty to one count before United States District Judge David S. Cercone.
In connection with the guilty plea, the court was advised that between in and around September 2009, to in and around April 2011, Wright falsified certificates of well plugging, falsely claiming that he had properly plugged abandoned oil wells, when he had not properly done so. These forms were relied upon by the EPA in regard to permits issued for Class II injection wells. These injection wells were to be used for the injection of oil production brine fluid and for the enhanced recovery process of oil extraction. The approval process for these injection wells required all abandoned wells within a quarter mile of the injection well site to have first been properly plugged. On January 12, 2012, inspectors with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), were on site to conduct a mechanical integrity test of the injection well when it was discovered that injected fluid had entered the bottom of an abandoned well because it had not been properly plugged to the bottom. According to the information presented in court, further investigation revealed that many of the wells that were plugged by Wright were not plugged as he claimed in the certificates of well plugging. In some instances, the certificates of well plugging falsely claimed that wells were properly plugged at depths greater than 2,000 feet when, in fact, the wells were only plugged at depths of less than 1,000 feet. According to the information presented in court, the discovery of Wright’s falsification of the plugging reports has required the re-inspection, and likely re-drilling and re-plugging, of 95 wells.
“Documents submitted to the government must be accurate and honest,” said David G. McLeod, Jr., Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in the Middle Atlantic states. “False reporting can seriously jeopardize environmental and public health protection. EPA and its law enforcement partners are committed to holding violators accountable to support our shared commitment to protect American communities. Today’s guilty plea further exemplifies our successful collaborative efforts with the U.S. Forest Service and the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office.”
Judge Cercone scheduled sentencing for December 22, 2014 at 1:30 p.m. The law provides for a total sentence of five years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed is based upon the seriousness of the offense and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.
Pending sentencing, the court continued Wright on bond.
Assistant United States Attorney Marshall J. Piccinini is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.
The Environmental Protection Agency - Criminal Investigation Division, the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General – Environmental Crimes Section, and the U.S. Forest Service – Law Enforcement and Investigations conducted the investigation that led to the prosecution of Wright.