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Feds charge NE Ohio man in wastewater dumping case

1:53 PM, Feb 14, 2013   |    comments
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YOUNGSTOWN -- Federal prosecutors charged a northeast Ohio man with violating the federal Clean Water Act after at least 20,000 gallons of gas-drilling waste was dumped into a tributary of the Mahoning River.

The U.S. Attorney's Office charged Ben Lupo, 62, of Poland, near Youngstown.

He pleaded not guilty when he made his initial appearance in U.S. District Court here after self-surrendering this morning after criminal complaint and arrest warrants were issued, court records show.

Lupo and his counsel waived a reading of the complaint and he was released on $50,000 unsecured bond He faces up to three years in prison, a $250,000 fine and a year of supervised release if convicted.

Authorities allege that Lupo directed an employee to illegally discharge the drilling mud and brine into a storm sewer that empties into the Mahoning River watershed on Jan. 31.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources revoked the permits of Hardrock, a brine hauler, and D&L Energy after workers at the companies' Youngstown headquarters reported seeing the material being dumped.

Hardrock provides services to the oil and gas industry in Ohio and Pennsylvania, including the storage of brine and oil-based drilling mud.

There are approximately 58 mobile storage tanks at the facility and each holds approximately 20,000 gallons.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources received a call from an anonymous person who stated that on the night of Jan. 31, 2013, someone would be illegally discharging wastewater from the Hardrock facility.

ODNR inspectors arrived and found a hose, connected to a storage tank, discharging wastewater into a stormwater drain at the facility. Inspectors took a sample of the wastewater, which was black in color.

Ohio EPA personnel arrived at the facility on Feb. 1 and found that the unnamed tributary had puddles of oil throughout its length, from where the stormwater drained to the Mahoning River, approximately one mile away. Oil and an oily sheen were also visible in the Mahoning River.

That day, an EPA representative spoke with Lupo about the discharge into the storm drain. Lupo admitted he directed a Hardrock employee to discharge the contents of the storage drain into the stormwater drain, and further admitted that he directed discharge from a storage tank a total of six times, according to the affidavit.

Lupo later told EPA and DNR personnel that he directed a Hardrock employee to drain storage tanks at Hardrock into the nearby stormwater drain six times over the previous six months, and that Lupo was the one who "gave the word" for the storage tanks to be discharged, according to the affidavit.

On Feb. 12, a Hardrock employee state that the discharges began in November 2012 at the direction of Lupo and that the employee was aware of at least 20 discharges into the stormwater.

The employee further stated that Lupo directed the employee , if questioned by authorities, to state that the discharges were limited to a total of four to six times, according to the affidavit.

At a 1 p.m. press conference today, the charges were announced by U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gaines, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Jim Zehringer and representatives from the U.S. and Ohio Environmental Protection Agencies.

WKYC-TV/Associated Press

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