Ohio Fracking CEO Pleads Not Guilty in Federal Toxic
15 February 2013
By Mike Ludwig
Ben Lupo, owner of D&L Energy and Hardrock Excavating, pleaded
not guilty Thursday to federal felony charges under the Clean
Lupo is accused of ordering the dumping of thousands of gallons of
chemical-laced fracking waste into streams in Youngstown, Ohio.
On the night of January 31, state investigators acted on an
anonymous tip and caught Lupo's employees dumping oil and gas
drilling waste - fluid, mud and oil - into a storm sewer that
empties into a tributary of the Mahoning River, according to the
Lupo admitted to state authorities that he ordered the initial
dumping and later told investigators he ordered employees to dump
the contents of a fracking waste storage tank into the storm drain
on six occasions. A Hardrock Excavating employee, however, told
authorities that he was aware of 20 dumping incidents since
November 2012, according to the Justice Department.
Lupo's storage tanks hold about 21,000 gallons of waste.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a controversial drilling
technique that is facilitating an oil and gas boom in Ohio and
nearby states. Fracking produces large quantities of
chemical-laced waste fluids and mud.
Lupo's D&L Energy operated the Northstar 1 fracking wastewater
injection well that caused a series of earthquakes in 2011 and
early 2012, including one quake that measured 4.0 on the Richter
scale. Truthout published an investigative report on the
earthquakes last summer.
Lupo has been charged with violating the Clean Water Act, a
federal offense that carries a maximum penalty of a $250,000 fine
and up to three years in prison, said to Steven M. Dettelbach, the
US attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. State regulators
also revoked operating permits for D&L Energy and Hardrock
Excavating, a brine-hauling firm owned by Lupo.
Test results released by Ohio regulators on Thursday show the
presence of harmful pollutants, including benzene and toluene, in
the watersheds contaminated by the waste. The pollutants support
the criminal charges against Lupo under the Clean Water Act,
Brian Cook, chief counsel for the Ohio Environmental Protection
Agency (OEPA), said on Thursday that ongoing cleanup efforts in
the polluted watersheds are expected to continue into next week.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said his office is pursuing its
own case against Lupo as the state-level investigation continues.
DeWine said during a news conference he is "very happy" that Lupo
is facing criminal charges on the federal level because the
federal government has "much stronger laws than the state of Ohio
"I believe it's time that Ohio law catches up to where federal law
is," DeWine said.
Ohio has become a popular destination for fracking waste disposal,
where a majority of the liquid waste is injected into underground
wells. The state accepts large volumes of waste from other heavily
fracked states, like Pennsylvania, and environmentalists are
concerned that Ohio is becoming a fracking waste "dumping ground"
due in part to lax regulations.
On February 12, a coalition of Ohio residents sent a letter to New
York Gov. Andrew Cuomo asking him not to lift a moratorium on
fracking in his state out of fear that even more waste will end up
in Ohio. The letter accuses the Ohio Department of Natural
Resources, which regulates fracking waste disposal, of approving
injection well permits at "alarming rates" and having "a long
history of ignoring repeated flagrant violations, not even
enforcing its weak rules, ignor[ing] citizens' concerns and
denying evidence of problems."