Two indicted in dumping

YOUNGSTOWN – A federal grand jury has indicted two local men investigators say were responsible for dumping oilfield brine and crude into a storm sewer, along with a Youngstown company.

Indicted Thursday were Benedict W. Lupo, 62, of Poland, his company Hardrock Excavating of Youngstown, and Michael Guesman, 34, of Cortland. They are charged with one count each of violating the federal Clean Water Act.

According to the indictment, it was Guesman who dumped brine and oil-based drilling mud into a storm sewer several times between November and January under the direction of Lupo, his boss and the company owner.

Attempts to reach Lupo and Guesman for comment were not successful.

Lupo, who owns Hardrock and D&L Energy with addresses at 2761 Salt Springs Road, is accused of directing Guesman on Nov. 1 to empty some of the waste liquids stored on the property into the nearby stormwater drain using a hose. He was told to ”conduct this activity only after no one else was at the facility and after dark,” according to the court document.

The indictment alleges that over the next several months, on numerous occasions at the direction of Lupo, Guesman emptied some of the waste.

Acting on an anonymous tip, Ohio Department of Natural Resources agents arrived Jan. 31 at the Salt Springs Road facility to witness two people using a hose to dispose of liquid from a frac tank into the storm sewer before they drove away in a truck labeled “Mohawk.”

There are about 58 total 20,000-gallon frac tanks located on the property.

ODNR investigators determined the discharged liquid contained a mixture of brine and oil-based drilling mud. Brine is water with high quantities of dissolved salt that originates in the oil-drilling industry, and oil-based drilling mud is a semi-solid slurry that contains petroleum products.

Subsequent tests determined the mixture held several hazardous pollutants including benzene and toluene.

Youngstown State University professor Jeffrey C. Dick, chairman of the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences and the director of the Natural Gas and Water Resources Institute, said benzene and toluene occur naturally in petroleum but would not be found in water sources in such high concentrations.

”They are associated with oil, but when it gets into our water, that is a problem,” Dick said.

State and federal officials reacted to the grand jury’s action.

Calling clean, fresh water Ohio’s greatest resource, U.S. Attorney for the northern district of Ohio Steven M. Dettelbach said, “We will aggressively investigate and prosecute cases in which people pollute Ohio’s streams, rivers and lakes.”

Randall Ashe, Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Ohio noted that natural gas exploration companies must ensure that the waste water resulting from the drilling process is treated and disposed of safely and legally.

“These defendants are alleged to have knowingly and repeatedly discharged stored brine and oil-based drilling mud into a stormwater drain which ultimately flowed into the Mahoning River,” Ashe said. ”This case demonstrates that if companies and their senior managers try to save money by circumventing environmental laws, they will be vigorously prosecuted.”

Cleanup of the river still is continuing in Youngstown, and is expected to last at least through the weekend. After that officials said a “maintenance phase” will begin to monitor ongoing waste collection.

Both Lupo and Guesman are facing up to three years in prison if convicted of violations of the federal Clean Water Act, along with a year of supervised release and a fine of $50,000 per day of violation up to $250,000. The company could face up to five years of probation and the same potential fine.

No court date has been set.