The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) has ordered Harch Environmental Resources Inc., a brine waste hauler, to cease operations in the state after finding evidence that the company illegally dumped oilfield waste at a farm in Belmont County. Regulators also took aim at Gulfport Energy Corp., which had contracted with the hauler.

Gulfport, one of the biggest Utica Shale operators, “failed to meet its responsibility to monitor oilfield waste from inception to injection,” ODNR said Tuesday. Both companies may face civil or criminal penalties from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

“We will pursue and punish any company that chooses to violate or ignore ODNR’s core mission to protect Ohioans and the environment,” Director James Zehringer stated. “Ohio’s laws provide some of the most comprehensive safeguards to public health in the country, and when those regulations are broken, ODNR will take all necessary steps to hold violators accountable.”

According to regulators, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) received an anonymous tip that illegal dumping had occurred at a farm in St. Clairsville, where Harch is based. An ODNR field inspector visited the farm and found standing water and what appeared to be oil-based mud that had been discharged onto the ground.

“A review of the site indicated trucks had backed up to the crest of a hill and released fluid down the hillside and into a private pond,” the ODNR said. The regulator’s Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management (DOGRM) “confirmed through laboratory testing that the soil and water samples collected from the area were high in chloride and sodium, identifying it as oilfield waste.”

OEPA also is investigating the site for possible water contamination, although it was unclear if it was testing groundwater, surface waters, or both. Results of the tests are pending.

With an investigation underway, the ODNR ordered Harch to begin containment and remediation efforts at the incident site and cease all of its operations at a temporary storage facility. The company was also ordered to show cause over why the state should not revoke its brine hauling permit. Harch was given 24 hours on Tuesday to request an informal hearing before the chief of the DOGRM.

In February, the ODNR permanently revoked operating permits for D&L Energy Inc. and Hardrock Excavating LLC after employees were seen dumping oilfield waste into a storm drain in Youngstown, which empties into the Mahoning River (see Shale Daily, Feb. 11). Former D&L CEO Ben Lupo and a Hardrock employee, Michael Guesman, each face one charge of violating the federal Clean Water Act.