Tuesday, February 12, 2013
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Ben Lupo, owner of D&L Energy and the man responsible for dumping what is likely more than 200,000 gallons of drilling wastewater and oil into a Mahoning River tributary, told the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency that he "was doing the right thing," a state EPA official said Monday.
Kurt Kollar, on-scene coordinator for the OEPA, said that according to statements made by Lupo to the agency, the businessman directed his employees to discharge the wastewater into a storm drain during the night because he "was doing the right thing, and didn't want to people to think I was doing the wrong thing and create and uproar,"
Lupo told the OEPA that the water was used to clean the tanks, and was therefore considered "clean" water, Kollar related. "Whether or not it's oil or brine, cleaning out the inside of those tanks generates wastewater, wastewater goes to sanitary sewer and a treatment plant at the least."
Kollar made the comments during a news conference in Mayor Charles Sammarone's office yesterday, where he revealed that Lupo has admitted to intentionally dumping wastewater into a storm drain on at least six different occasions since September (READ STORY).
On the last occasion, he was caught. Officials from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources received an anonymous tip Jan. 31 and observed employees of Hardrock Excavating, a company owned by Lupo, draining a 21,000-gallon "frac" tank into the drain. Lupo then admitted dumping the contents of another 21,000-gallon tank that evening.
Last week, the US EPA confirmed that at least 40,000 gallons of wastewater and oil was dumped into the storm sewer, which empties into a tributary of the Mahoning River.
But Kollar told reporters that Lupo has now admitted to dumping roughly the same amount of wastewater into the drain five other times. That places the amount of wastewater illegally discharged potentially closer to 240,000 gallons, not 40,000.
"That's what he's indicated," Kollar said of Lupo. "He's stated on the record at least six times since September of 2012."
It's still unclear precisely how much wastewater was discharged in the tributary and river, Kollar added, but noted inspectors have found that sediments of the creek leading into the Mahoning are "heavily inundated with layers of oil, supporting the fact that this isn't a one-time offense."
The oil is embedded in the bottom of the creek, and can only be visible when the bottom is disrupted. About one-third of a mile of the tributary was contaminated, but some oil made its way into the Mahoning.
"It complicates matters," he said. "It's very hard to get to. It's a lot of land and manpower."
A state and federal criminal investigation is under way, Kollar said, adding that it is "uncommon" for a business such as Lupo's to intentionally dump wastewater. "I'm used to dealing with accidents."
Sammarone, who was on vacation last week when the incident was made public, said he's frustrated that local communities and municipalities don’t have control and oversight over oil and gas companies such as D&L or its subsidiaries.
"There should have been a routine inspection," Sammarone said. "Who knows, he might have been dumping there for a year. We have to be proactive."
Eight years ago, the state assumed the permitting responsibility for the oil and gas industry, Sammarone said, reiterating he's a strong proponent of bringing that control back to municipalities. "When you have control, you can respond quicker, make decisions, shut things down, and make sure people follow the rules."
ODNR has revoked all of D&L and Hardrock's operating and drilling permits. D&L's core business is developing injection wells to store wastewater from drilling operations. In 2011, the company's Northstar well in Youngstown was linked to a series of earthquakes that rocked the Mahoning Valley.
The company was given 45 days to remove all of its wastewater from the property.
Sammarone declared the company should never have been issued operating permits in the first place, given D&L's poor track record related to the earthquakes and some 120 other violations the company's racked up over the years from its operations in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Workers remained at the site Monday continuing the cleanup. A crew was busy along the tributary, which runs behind the Toys R' Us warehouse on Salt Springs Road. Another crew was cleaning the storm sewers near D&L's offices at 2761 Salt Springs Road.
Kollar reported that the contamination is now contained, and there is no oil seeping into the Mahoning River. He said rain last week presented some setbacks, but the contractors hired by D&L are working around the clock in the cleanup effort.
"We are having them do what is a controlled washdown of the creek," Kollar said. "Our big goal was to make sure we didn't have any more oil or other contaminants going out to the main river," he said, noting that about a third of a mile of the tributary is contaminated.
Initial tests at the site determined that the contamination didn't pose an immediate threat to the public, and there was no threat to any sources of drinking water.
Contractors are trying to identify the level of contamination section-by-section in the creek, targeting the more serious areas first, Kollar said. "You're seeing layering in sediments the creek and some along bank walls."
The first phase of the cleanup – that is, removal of the free-floating oil from the creek -- should be completed in the next week or two, Kollar said. "Once we are confident we don't have oil going out, we move into the remedial phase," he said, "and figure out what's going to be the best for everybody and the environment and then go forth with that."
Breaking: EPA Says Lupo Dumped at Least 6 Times
EPA: 40K Gallons Dumped; Hagan Demands Arrest
D&L Energy Says It May Appeal Shutdowns
Ohio Shuts Down Lupo's D&L, Hardrock Excavating
D&L's Lupo Owns Company That Dumped Drilling Waste
Petitions Filed for Citizens' Bill of Fracking Rights
Copyright 2013 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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