Authorities have charged D&L Energy Inc. CEO Ben Lupo with one count of violating the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) after allegedly ordering an employee to dump oilfield waste into a storm drain that empties into the Mahoning River near Youngstown, OH.

“Those of us from Northeast Ohio know the legacy of dumping industrial waste into our waterways,” Steven Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said Thursday. “Whether our water flows south to the Ohio River or north to the Great Lakes, protecting and preserving clean and safe water remains a major priority of the my office and the Department of Justice.”

A violation of the CWA is a federal offense punishable by up to three years in prison, a $250,000 fine and one year of parole. Lupo, 62, was arraigned in U.S. District Court in Youngstown on Thursday and pleaded not guilty to the charges. He was released on $50,000 bond.

According to court documents, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) received an anonymous tip of illegal dumping at a storage facility on Salt Springs Road during the evening of Jan. 31 (see Shale Daily, Feb. 11). When ODNR inspectors arrived, they found a hose connected to a storage tank, discharging wastewater into a storm drain at the facility. Inspectors then took a sample of the wastewater, which was black.

Inspectors from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) discovered on Feb. 1 that an unnamed tributary of the Mahoning River connected to the storm drain, about one mile away from the incident site, had puddles of oil throughout its length. OEPA personnel also saw oil and an oily sheen in the Mahoning River itself.

Court documents showed that in an interview with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials on Feb. 1, Lupo admitted that he ordered a Hardrock employee to dump the contents of the storage tank into the storm drain. He also reportedly admitted that he had ordered similar discharges on five previous occasions. During a subsequent interview with the EPA and the ODNR, Lupo again admitted authorizing the discharges six times over the last six months.

The court documents also showed that a Hardrock employee told the investigators on Tuesday that the discharges began last November on Lupo’s orders, and that there had been at least 20 discharges into the storm drain. The employee further alleged that Lupo had ordered employees involved in the discharges to lie to investigators if questioned, and to say that there had only been four or six discharges.

“As the nation increases its use of natural gas, exploration companies must ensure that the waste water resulting from the drilling process is treated and disposed of safely and legally,” said Randall Ashe, special agent in charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Ohio. “This case demonstrates that if companies and their senior managers try to save money by circumventing environmental laws, they will be vigorously prosecuted.”

According to reports, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is preparing to file civil proceedings against Lupo on behalf of the state. “We should look at bringing state law to the level of federal law to give the state more options in prosecuting these kinds of acts,” DeWine said Thursday.

One year ago, D&L was at the center of another controversy after a dozen small earthquakes hit the Youngstown area. An investigation by the ODNR found that the earthquakes may have been caused by a Class II injection well in Youngstown owned by D&L (see Shale Daily, March 12, 2012; Jan. 5, 2012). The well remains offline and depressurized.