We previously reported on the federal criminal and State of Ohio enforcement actions arising from the release of tens of thousands of gallons of hydraulic fracturing waste into a Youngstown, Ohio, area tributary by Hard Rock Excavating (Hard Rock) during late 2012 and early 2013. On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Nugent handed Hard Rock principal, Benedict Lupo, a 28-month prison sentence and a $25,000 fine on one count of making an unpermitted discharge in violation of the United States Clean Water Act.
Lupo plead guilty to the Clean Water Act charge in March, admitting that he ordered two employees to release the waste into a nearby storm drain flowing into the tributary after business hours. The District Court sentenced each employee to three years’ probation on the same Clean Water Act charges in March and July of this year. The employees discharged wastewater on 33 occasions from November 2012 to January 2013. Ohio Department of Natural Resources investigators observed the dumping after receiving an anonymous tip on January 31, 2013.
Judge Nugent rejected pleas for leniency by Lupo’s attorneys, citing Lupo’s insistence over the employees’ objections that they discharge the waste and conceal their actions, and the significant water source pollution portrayed by photos presented by the U.S. Attorney. Supporting the stern sentence, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine leaned on the recent contamination of the Toledo water supply resulting from large toxic algae bloom believed to be enhanced by phosphorous runoff from farming activities and septic systems:
“The recent water crisis in Toledo is a grave reminder of how important it is to protect our waterways. Those who commit crimes against the environment jeopardize the health and safety of Ohioans, and our natural resources and wildlife. They must be held accountable.”
The sentence exemplifies the harsh actions that the authorities will take for abuses of the environmental laws applicable to hydraulic fracturing operations.