A federal court in Ohio has handed down a 28-month prison sentence and imposed a $25,000 fine for dumping fracking waste in violation of the Clean Water Act.
The defendant, Benjamin Lupo, is the former owner of Hardrock Excavating, a Youngstown, Ohio oil and gas services contractor. Lupo had previously pled guilty to one count of making an unpermitted discharge of fracking waste. In pleading guilty, Lupo admitted to ordering an employee to discharge wastewater to a tributary of the Mahoning River more than 30 times over a three-month period from a Hardrock Excavating facility. The discharge caused waste liquid that included a mixture of brine and oil-based drilling mud to enter the tributary and the Mahoning River.
The releases were discovered after the Ohio Department of Natural Resources received an anonymous tip in January 2013 reporting illegal after-hours discharges coming from the Hardrock Excavating facility. State inspectors went to the facility and discovered a hose releasing liquid into the storm drain. A sample of the discharge subsequently collected by the state contained benzene, toluene, and other pollutants, officials said.
The employee, Michael Guesman, pled guilty in August 2013, admitting to running a hose from a 20,000 gallon storage tank filled with fracking wastewater to a nearby storm drain and draining the contents of the tank into the drain in August 2013. Guesman received three years of probation at his sentencing in March 2014.
The aggressive prosecution of Lupo highlights the need for robust environmental compliance programs in the oil and gas industry. A comprehensive and consistently implemented compliance program is the best insurance against the fines, negative publicity, and in some instances, time in custody that well operators and consultants face following a conviction of an environmental crime. This is particularly true for fracking operations, given the intense public scrutiny—and the possibility of significant prison terms—that fracking operators currently face.