YOUNGSTOWN - Anonymous complaints of illegal dumping on Salt Springs Road had come in repeatedly throughout January until state inspectors finally caught one in the act on Jan. 31, state documents released Thursday indicate.
''On Jan. 31, 2013, division inspectors, acting on one of the anonymous tips, visited 2761 Salt Springs Road and observed two individuals disposing of substances from a hose connected to a frac tank into a storm sewer,'' Ohio Department of Natural Resources officials spelled out in an order that they delivered Wednesday to D&L Energy.
The incident set off a series of events that now include ongoing environmental cleanup, a criminal investigation, a possible civil suit and revoking all state permits held by Youngstown-based D&L Energy and Hardrock Excavating that had allowed them to transport and dispose of oilfield waste.
Tribune Chronicle / Brenda J. Linert
Workers from Tom’s Sewer and Septic in McDonald clean dumped brine from storm sewers Thursday along Salt Springs Road in Youngstown. Workers were progressing westward in the cleanup over the week.
Both companies are based at 2761 Salt Springs Road and owned by Ben Lupo. Documents released by ODNR Thursday following a Tribune Chronicle public record request also link a third company operated by Lupo, Mohawk Disposal Management LLC, to the discharge.
The men observed by ODNR inspectors discharging the brine drove away from the site in a truck labeled "Mohawk" before inspectors began taking samples of the liquids they had dumped, reports say.
According to ODNR, Mohawk, also located at 2761 Salt Springs Road, promotes itself for frac and storage tank rental, oilfield excavating services, recycling concrete and oilfield wastewater disposal. However, the company is not registered with the state Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management to transport brine or any other oilfield fluid.
ODNR action and possible penalties
D&L Energy injection well permits revoked (Injection wells are underground permanent disposal sites for oilfield waste)
Parobek 2, New Lyme, Ashtabula County
Northstar Lucky 4, Beaver Township, Mahoning County
Northstar Collins 6, Coitsville, Mahoning
Mohawk 7 Printup, Springfield, Mahoning
Koontz 1, Trumbull County
Northstar United 2, Liberty, Warren Township, Trumbull
D&L also had applications pending for two Trumbull County and one Mahoning County
saltwater injection wells. Those have been denied.
Hardrock Excavating was ordered to show cause why its registration certificate should not be revoked.
State law: up to one year in prison and a $25,000 fine
Federal law: up to three years in prison and a $50,000 fine per day that waste was knowingly discharged into navigable waterways
An ODNR investigation uncovered Mohawk trucks and brine haulers bearing ID numbers illegally registered to Hardrock Excavating. The investigation also uncovered evidence that D&L had been illegally accepting oilfield waste from Mohawk. It was largely that action that led to Wednesday's revocation of D&L's permits, ODNR Chief of Communications Bethany McCorkle said Thursday.
''By allowing illegal disposal operations to occur at 2761 Salt Springs Road, Mr. Lupo is conducting all phases of his saltwater disposal in violation of Ohio's oil and gas laws and rules,'' the revocation order states.
By immediately revoking his permits, the state has banned Lupo from operating any brine disposal in any of his six Class II injection wells. The state also has rejected three applications Lupo had pending for new injection wells and on Wednesday sent a letter to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine asking him to initiate civil proceedings against ''D&L Energy and any other appropriate persons'' for the violations.
The company may, however, continue production operations on oil and gas wells located in Ohio.
Late Thursday, Hardrock requested an informal hearing with the division of oil and gas resources in an attempt to argue that the company's certificate should not be revoked.
Lupo on Thursday released a statement noting that D&L Energy Group is reviewing ODNR's order and considering an appeal. Both Hardrock and D&L will have 30 days to file an official appeal.
McCorkle said it is still unclear how much brine and crude oil was discharged, but noted it is not believed the tank was full.
Rather, she said the men were rinsing out the oil field residue and flushing it down the storm sewer. While the tank can hold up to 20,000 gallons, she noted the tank was less than full.
''I think the picture is being painted that it was full,'' McCorkle said. ''The container wasn't full.''
Thomas E. Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, a trade association representing more than 3,200 members in Ohio, released a statement Thursday supporting ODNR's decision to revoke the permits.
Cleanup of the brine and crude oil, that eventually flowed into the Mahoning River in Youngstown, is ongoing, and while costs are not yet calculated, officials say the perpetrators will be footing the bill.
Chris Abbruzzese, spokesman for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said Thursday so far it appears no viable wildlife has been impacted by the discharge.
Before it was contained, the discharge leaked about 1,500 feet into a tributary of the Mahoning River and into "pockets" along the Mahoning River, he said.