Brine cleanup continues

YOUNGSTOWN – Cleanup of oilfield waste discharged into a Youngstown storm sewer won’t be wrapping up any time soon, state environmental officials said on Friday.

”Cleanup will continue through the weekend and well into next week,” said Chris Abbruzzese, deputy director of communications for the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Abbruzzese said Friday his agency still does not have lab results spelling out specifically what was in the oilfield waste that flowed from storm drains about 1,500 feet into an area creek and then into pockets along the Mahoning River.

Abbruzzese’s counterpart at the state Department of Natural Resources, Bethany McCorkle, said this week she could confirm only that the tank that was emptied into the storm drain contained “brine and crude oil.”

A breakdown of the brine ingredients had not been released as of Friday.

The discharge occurred about 7:30 p.m. Jan. 31 at the business address of Hardrock Excavating LLC, 2761 Salt Springs Road. ODNR documents indicate that the company’s owner, Ben Lupo, admitted to instructing employees to drain the tank into the storm sewer. Acting on an anonymous tip, ODNR officials showed up at the facility to witness the discharge.

Lupo also is owner of several other companies, including D&L Energy, also located at the Salt Springs Road address. This week the two companies were stripped of their state permits to operate their oilfield waste operations.

ODNR reports show that the agency’s investigation determined another company affiliated with Lupo, Mohawk Disposal Management, LLC, had been hauling oilfield waste without a permit to Lupo’s D&L Energy disposal sites. As a result, the state revoked D&L’s disposal licenses. The company, however, may continue to operate its numerous natural gas and oil production wells in Ohio.

Hardrock has requested an informal hearing to argue that their permit should not be revoked. Neither company has filed a formal appeal.

The revocation order served to Lupo this week and signed by Richard Simmers, Chief of Ohio’s Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management, included findings of fact indicating that in January ”the division received several anonymous complaints that illegal dumping was taking place at 2761 Salt Springs Road.”

Specifically, the agency had received two anonymous tips that came in via text messages.

McCorkle said first text was without details and was not actionable information. An inquiry was made seeking more details. Within hours of the second text, ODNR was on scene to witness illegal activity, she said.

A national nonprofit organization, the Environmental Defense Fund, on Friday issued a statement commending the state agencies for their swift and decisive action taken against D&L Energy and Hardrock Excavating.

”After reports that these operators were dumping oilfield waste into a storm sewer that empties into the Mahoning River watershed, regulators quickly took steps to confirm the reports, start cleanup operations and initiate permanent revocation of operating permits,” the organization said.

Still, state Rep. Robert Hagan, who has been vocal with his anger about the incident, isn’t happy with the speed of the investigation.

Hagan, D-Youngstown, fired off a letter Friday to the Youngstown city prosecutor questioning whether she plans to file charges.

Hagan also pointed out that while Lupo remains free, seven citizens had been arrested on the spot during a 2011 protest at the Salt Springs Road property.

They were arrested and charged by the Youngstown city prosecutor for disorderly conduct after peacefully exercising their constitutional right to assembly, Hagan said. ”Meanwhile, the man who has committed an egregious violation of state and federal environmental regulations – putting our community and our families at risk – has so far suffered no legal repercussions,” Hagan said. “Something is terribly wrong with that picture.”

In his letter directed to city prosecutor Dana Lantz, Hagan wrote, ”Surely, your office must be preparing charges against Mr. Lupo with all appropriate haste? I would like to know if your office intends to file criminal charges in the immediate future.”

A former business partner of Lupo, embattled former Trumbull County Engineer David DeChristofaro, on Friday acknowledged his prior business relationship, but said he sold his interest in the company more than 20 years ago.

DeChristofaro, or the “D” in D&L Energy, had formed the business with Lupo in 1986, but sold his stock in the company and resigned as president and treasurer of D&L in 1990 because he had ”too much going on,” including his work for the Cafaro Co., he said Friday. Since then he said he has invested in D&L natural gas wells, but not in waste disposal wells, or injection wells, which are the center of the brine discharge investigation.

Tribune Chronicle reporter Ron Selak Jr. contributed to this story.