YOUNGSTOWN - State investigators with the Ohio Attorney General's Office stood guard Wednesday morning at the entrance ways of the Salt Springs Road location where brine and crude were illegally dumped last month as officials with state and federal agencies continued their probe inside the building.
Officers with the state Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, an arm of the Ohio Attorney General's Office, along with U.S. and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency investigators, spent several hours at the D&L Energy offices, 2761 Salt Springs Road, working on their investigation into the dumping.
One BCI officer at the scene declined to comment on the focus, referring media questions to the U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Mike Tobin in Cleveland.
Tobin confirmed the investigators were on the site to continue their probe, but declined to say if they were executing a search warrant or what, if any, items had been confiscated. Tobin said he would decline further comment until the grand jury makes a decision in the case.
The case was turned over to the federal grand jury after the company's owner, Ben Lupo, 62, of Poland, pleaded not guilty Feb. 14 in U.S. District Court to violating the federal Clean Water Act. He remains free on bond.
The U.S. Attorney General charged Lupo after employees of his company, Hardrock Excavating, were caught Jan. 31 dumping oilfield waste into a storm sewer at the D&L Energy location. Court records say Lupo told investigators he ordered his employees to dump the waste down the storm sewer, which drained into a tributary and eventually the Mahoning River in Youngstown.
Investigators with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation patrolled the parking lot and stood watch Wednesday morning at entrances to D&L Energy offices on Salt Springs Road, Youngstown. Photo by Brenda J. Linert
Acting on an anonymous tip, Ohio Department of Natural Resources investigators showed up at the location to catch the employees in the act.
Both Hardrock and D&L Energy operate out of the 2761 Salt Springs Road offices, and both are owned by Lupo.
Since the incident, the ODNR has revoked licenses allowing D&L to operate oilfield waste disposal injection wells and Hardrock's licenses to haul the waste. Lupo's companies, however, are permitted to continue to operate their production wells.
Lupo has not appealed those decisions. He did, however, request and on Feb. 14 received a hearing in which the chief of ODNR's oil and gas division was asked to show cause why Hardrock's permit should be revoked. There has been no ruling on that hearing.
A message left seeking comment from D&L Energy officials on Wednesday was not returned.
Officials have not released an estimate on the amount of brine and crude dumped illegally, noting it is part of the ongoing investigation.
Ohio EPA spokesman Chris Abbruzzese on Wednesday said cleanup, still ongoing in the area of the tributary, should wrap up by the weekend. After that, a "maintenance" phase will begin, including continued collection and monitoring of containment devices and absorbent materials being kept in the river.