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Ohio Supreme Court Dismisses Sierra Club Lawsuit Against ODNR After Settlement

The Ohio Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) filed in September by an environmental group that alleged the regulatory agency failed to comply with the state's public records law during the investigation of a Youngstown-based oil and gas company.

The case was dismissed on Tuesday after the Ohio Sierra Club and ODNR settled. The agency agreed to pay $2,500 in legal fees and other penalties. The Ohio Sierra Club has said that it received the documents it requested a week after the case was filed in September.

In March, the Sierra Club requested documents from ODNR that related to a federal and state investigation that stemmed from an incident that occurred in January 2013. Regulators determined that the former owner of Hardrock Excavating and D&L Energy, both of Youngstown, had instructed an employee to dump storage tanks full of oilfield waste into a storm drain that fed into the Mahoning River (see Shale Daily, Feb. 19). The Sierra Club said ODNR withheld the documents for months.

"Unfortunately, ODNR apparently still doesn't understand that you don't get to pick and choose when you comply with Ohio's public records law," said Jed Thorp, manager of the Ohio Sierra Club, at the time the lawsuit was filed. "The public has a right to know what ODNR is doing to keep fracking waste from being illegally dumped into our streams and rivers, and we shouldn't have to file a lawsuit every time we seek answers."

In April 2012, the Sierra Club filed a similar action against ODNR for failing to supply documents related to fracking in Ohio's state parks. In that case, ODNR paid a $9,000 settlement. The agency is also in the midst of a case with a Warren, OH-based wastewater treatment company that claims ODNR withheld documents that could have proved useful in a hearing before a state environmental board (see Shale Daily, Jan. 2).

In D&L and Hardrock's case, ODNR revoked both companies permits and the federal government charged both the owner and the employee involved in the incident with violating the Clean Water Act. The employee, Michael P. Guesman, has plead guilty, while the owner, Ben W. Lupo, has plead not guilty. D&L was sold in December for $20.7 million after it filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection in April (see Shale Daily, Nov. 20, 2013).

ODNR will not comment about either public records case. It also remains unclear if the Sierra Club discovered any wrongdoing in the way ODNR investigated the dumping incident. A call to Thorp was not returned on Wednesday, and the organization has not released any additional information about the documents since it received them in September.

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