Officials agree new rules are needed

YOUNGSTOWN – They may belong to different political parties, but Mayor Charles Sammarone and state Attorney General Mike DeWine are on the same page when it comes to toughening regulations for drillers of natural gas in the state.

Both were in agreement at a news conference on the banks of the Mahoning River Thursday after Ben Lupo, the owner of a company accused of illegally dumping waste into a tributary of the Mahoning River, was arraigned in federal court for a single charge of illegal dumping into a waterway.

”We have to make the laws tougher,” said Sammarone, a Democrat.

The Republican DeWine also said tougher laws are needed for drillers in the state. DeWine said he thinks the state should fine companies for offenses per day instead of per offense.

The case against Lupo is being prosecuted criminally in federal court because federal laws are tougher, he said. If Lupo is convicted, he faces a prison term of three years.

”I believe Ohio law has to catch up to where the federal law is,” DeWine said.

The state is going after Lupo in a civil case, DeWine said.

State Rep. Bob Hagan, D-Youngstown, who has been a vocal critic of state drilling regulations and who has also called for prosecution of Lupo, said he was pleased at the charges, especially coming just two weeks after investigators received a tip he was dumping illegally.

”I think it sends a clear message that abuse of the environment will not be tolerated,” Hagan said.

Investigators were first called to D&L Energy, which is owned by Lupo, on Jan. 31 after receiving an anonymous tip, and discovered that employees of another Lupo company, Hardrock Excavating, were dumping the waste into a storm sewer that drains into a tribituary that feeds into the Mahoning River.

Hagan said he has talked to DeWine about his efforts to toughen drilling regulations and that he introduced a bill Wednesday to do so, along the lines that DeWine proposed at the news conference.

Hagan also said the state could use more inspectors for drilling sites as well.

State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Youngstown, said he will be introducing tougher drilling legislation in the Senate. He said he was happy it took only two weeks for charges to be filed, but added Lupo must be dealt with harshly to deter others from the same kind of conduct.

”We have to make an example of Mr. Lupo,” Schiavoni said.

U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan said issued a release supporting the action being taken against Lupo.

“I continue to be outraged over the allegations that brine and drilling mud were dumped into a tributary of the Mahoning River in Youngstown, but I am reassured that appropriate officials are pursuing the case vigorously,” the Niles Democrat said. “I hope that all of the facts in this case will be made public so that federal, state, and local regulators will be better equipped to ensure that our environment is not being harmed. The natural gas industry is thriving and it can be a boon to our economy, but only if the industry adheres to Ohio rules and regulations.”