The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has permanently revoked the operating permits for two companies, D&L Energy Inc. and Hardrock Excavating LLC, after employees were seen dumping oilfield waste into a storm drain in Youngstown that empties into the Mahoning River.

The ODNR said it received an anonymous tip of illegal dumping at a storage facility on Salt Springs Road during the evening of Jan. 31. The agency said it immediately dispatched contractors to the site, and containment booms, absorbent pads, vacuum trucks and other equipment were deployed to try to contain the waste.

ODNR Director James Zehringer said the agency “treats all allegations of wrongdoing involving oilfield waste very seriously and will continue to aggressively investigate each of these cases to ensure violators are held accountable.” The agency said a criminal investigation was under way, and it asked Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to begin civil proceedings.

The ODNR ordered D&L to cease all injection well operations in the state and its temporary storage operations at a facility on Salt Springs Road. The agency also revoked D&L’s six current injection well permits, denied D&L’s applications for three new injection well permits and revoked Hardrock’s brine haulers permit.

Meanwhile, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) issued a notice of violation to D&L CEO Ben Lupo. The notice said oil and “drilling operation water, brine and brine residue material was intentionally discharged to [a] storm sewer by [a] company employee under direction of Ben Lupo, owner.”

D&L spokesman Vince Bevacqua told NGI’s Shale Daily on Friday that Hardrock and D&L are sister companies and that Lupo has a minority ownership in Hardrock.

“D&L Energy Group is currently reviewing the actions taken by ODNR relative to its companies’ operating permits and intends to respond to, and perhaps appeal, such action at the appropriate time and in the appropriate venue,” the company said. “We cannot discuss the specific circumstances of the ODNR’s actions, nor our potential response, until these matters are concluded.”

In a video interview with the Youngstown Vindicator at the incident site, State Rep. Robert Hagan (D-Youngstown) said the ODNR and OEPA were “doing a wonderful job” at the cleanup, but he added that there was also “an unbelievable amount of mystery and secrecy surrounding the rest of it.”

“We’re still asking for information on what kind of chemicals have been released, how far this release has happened,” Hagan said. “They’ve told me that it’s gone through two [storm] drains so far. There has been a release into the [Mahoning] River, and two to three rivers down wastewater treatment plants have been told that they should look for the possibility of contamination.”

The newspaper reported that a Hardrock employee was cleaning a 20,000-gallon storage tank for oilfield waste at the time of the dumping.

The ODNR said persons convicted of polluting the state’s waterways could, under state law, face a misdemeanor penalty of up to one year in prison and a $25,000 fine. According to the agency, federal law for a knowing violation — meaning the individual or company knew their actions would pollute navigable water — constitutes a felony, with a maximum penalty of a fine of $50,000 per day of violation and three years’ imprisonment.

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.