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Dumping fracking waste into the eco-system

Melissa Topey • Mar 4, 2013 at 5:48 AM

The maximum federal sentence for the violation is three years in prison and a $250,000 fine, as well as one year of supervised release. It’s a harsher penalty than what Lupo would have faced with state charges.

He’s accused of ordering employees, on five different occasions, to dump about 20,000 gallons of fracking waste — a mixture of brine material and oil-based drilling mud — into a storm drain that flowed into a tributary that flows into the Mahoning River, near Youngstown.

“Prevention starts with strong enforcement. That is the best deterrent to someone thinking this could happen,” said Jack Shaner, deputy director and senior director of legislative and public affairs at the Ohio Environmental Council.

Ohio has typically been a weak enforcer of regulations, said Shaner, who’s calling for harsher state penalties and better oversight.

Shaner said the Ohio Department of Natural Resources should add inspectors to monitoring the practices of businesses such as Lupo’s.

Lupo’s employees may actually have dumped more waste material than they’re admitting, Shaner said.

The Ohio Environmental Council estimates the Youngstown dumping, based on statements made by Lupo’s employee, could have been as high as 250,000 gallons of a toxic slurry.

“As the events in Youngstown indicate, accidental spills and, in this case, intentional dumping happens,” he said. “The last place we want it to happen is into springs, or God forbid, into the Great Lakes.”

There are currently 529 permits in Ohio for horizontal Utica shale wells, with 242 already drilled, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The state has also issued 20 permits for horizontal Marcellus shale wells, with seven drilled, ODNR maps show.    There were about 180 disposal wells in Ohio as of 2012.

Three messages left with Gov. John Kasich’s office since Feb. 20 w ere not returned. A Register reporter was seeking to know how much the state has budgeted for enforcement of fracking violations.

Fracking requires a lot of freshwater to fracture rock and pull out gas and petroleum from the rock. The result is a slurry of water contaminated with chemicals, sand and a higher level of salt concentration. If not stored properly, the material will contaminate ground water and soil.

Billions of gallons of water are being thrown away, Shaner said.

“Less than 1 percent a year is replenished by snow and melt,” he said. “This is a finite resource.”

Holly Myers, a lecturer at the Center of Environmental Programs at BGSU, said the news is a jolt.

“It was shocking to me that anyone above the age of 5 does not know not to dump down a storm sewer that may go directly into a stream,” Myers said. “There are some things that cannot be removed from the water.”

Myers said she’s angry a businessman was not shut down after the state had conclusive evidence his drilling was causing earthquakes in the Youngstown area.

“Why was he allowed to remain in business to dump it on Jan. 31?” Myers said. “There needs to be more oversight.”

Shaner and Myers said the Lupo case may be the wakeup call ne e de d to protect the Great Lakes and the freshwater supply.

Local legislators are trying to make state penalties mirror those at the federal level.

State Sens. Frank LaRose, R-Copley Township, and Joe Schiavoni- D-Boardman, have introduced SB 46, which would deny drilling permits to any person or company caught violating the law designed to stop illegal dumping of waste. It would make the crime a felony, with a fine of up to $50,000 and a prison sentence of up to three years on the first offense. As it stands now, a state violation nets an offender up to six months in jail.

 The Ohio Petroleum Council applauded Lupo’s prosecution.

We encourage all appropriate federal, state and local law enforcement and regulatory agencies to thoroughly investigate this situation and prosecute the responsible parties to the fullest extent of the law,” said Rob Eshenbaugh, spokesman for The Ohio Petroleum Council.

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