State revokes operating permits for two companies tied to Youngstown dumping of drilling brine

By Bob Downing
Beacon Journal staff writer

The state of Ohio is permanently revoking the operating permits of two Youngstown companies in connection with the illegal dumping of drilling wastes into a storm sewer that drains into the Mahoning River.

The revocation orders by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources were served late Wednesday to Hardrock Excavating and D&L Energy Group, both located at 2761 Salt Springs Road in Youngstown, and both owned by Ben Lupo, who faces criminal and civil charges from the state.

D&L Energy is the company that operated the injection well that triggered more than a dozen small earthquakes through late 2011 in the Youngstown area. The well was used to dispose of drilling waste.

Under the ODNR’s orders, D&L Energy must cease all injection-well operations in the state of Ohio. Permits for its six injection wells have been revoked by the state. They include operating injection wells in Trumbull and Ashtabula counties and three under construction: two in Mahoning County and one in Trumbull County. The sixth well in Youngstown exists only on paper.

The state’s order does not affect the 9,200-foot-deep Youngstown injection well that is widely blamed for the earthquakes. That well might be switched to a new corporate owner, officials said.

Applications from the company for three new injection wells have been denied.

In addition, D&L Energy immediately will cease all temporary storage operations at the Salt Springs Road site.

ODNR also revoked the brine hauling permit of Hardrock Excavating. The hauling permit had allowed the company to transport oil field wastes from drilling rigs to the Youngstown site.

In a statement the company released Thursday afternoon, it said: “D&L Energy Group is currently reviewing the actions taken by ODNR relative to its companies’ operating permits, and intends to respond to, and perhaps appeal, such action at the appropriate time and in the appropriate venue. We cannot discuss the specific circumstances of the ODNR’s actions, nor our potential response, until these matters are concluded.”

The state’s criminal investigation against Lupo, also identified as the CEO of both firms, and the companies is continuing.

ODNR officially has asked the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to initiate civil proceedings against those responsible for the intentional dumping.

“ODNR treats all allegations of wrongdoing involving oil field waste very seriously and will continue to aggressively investigate each of these cases to ensure violators are held accountable,” ODNR Director James Zehringer said in a statement.

Lupo was linked to the illegal discharge of drilling wastes to the storm sewer off Salt Springs Road in Youngstown on Jan. 31. Officials have placed the amount of waste that was dumped at between 40,000 and 50,000 gallons, the Youngstown Vindicator reported Thursday.

He reportedly ordered company employees to dump the oil, brine and drilling muds, an action that was witnessed by state inspectors.

The state had learned of the planned dumping via an anonymous telephone call to ODNR.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency reported that Lupo admitted responsibility for the dumping.

At that time, he was identified as owner of Hardrock Excavating, and a spokesman for D&L Energy had denied any corporate involvement in the dumping.

The EPA has been supervising the cleanup of the storm sewer, an unnamed tributary and the Mahoning River.

“We are working as fast as possible to complete this cleanup because a warming trend into the weekend could make the work more challenging as things thaw,” EPA Director Scott Nally said.

The Ohio EPA regulates any pollutants that enter state waters. Both state and federal laws prohibit the placement of industrial wastes where they can cause water pollution.

Under state law, violators face a misdemeanor penalty of up to one year in prison and a $25,000 fine.

Under federal law, a knowing discharge constitutes a felony with a maximum penalty of three years in prison and fine of $50,000 per day. Such a violation occurs when an individual or corporation knowingly discharges pollutants into navigable waters.

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or bdowning@thebeaconjournal.com.


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