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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Pennsylvania

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, December 22, 2014

Venango County Man Sentenced For Safe Drinking Water Act Violations

ERIE, Pa. - A resident of Pleasantville, Pennsylvania, has been sentenced in federal court to 6 months in jail, 12 months home detention, 3 years supervised release and ordered to make restitution in the amount of $236,524.73 on his conviction of making false statements in matters relevant to permits issued under the Safe Drinking Water Act, United States Attorney David J. Hickton announced today.

United States District Judge David S. Cercone imposed the sentence on Ronald A. Wright, 45.

According to information presented to the court, 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.

“EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment is dependent, in large part, on the veracity of the information it receives,” said David G. McLeod, Jr., Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in the Middle Atlantic States. “Today’s sentencing should send a strong message that EPA and its partners will hold those accountable, who knowingly submit false reports and undermine our efforts to protect human health and the environment.”

Assistant United States Attorney Marshall J. Piccinini prosecuted this case on behalf of the government.

U.S. Attorney Hickton commended 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 for the investigation leading to the successful prosecution of Wright.

Updated July 14, 2015