Patriot Water Treatment sues ODNR for $3.5M
By Burton Speakman
Patriot Water Treatment has fired the next volley in its feud with state regulators by filing a multimillion- dollar lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Patriot filed suit Friday in Court of Claims of Ohio in Columbus for the agency’s alleged “concealment and destruction of public documents.”
Patriot seeks $3.5 million in damages and attorney fees.
Patriot’s operations were shut down for three months starting April 1, based on an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency order that denied the permit for the city of Warren to receive water from Patriot. The decision was based on new reading of the state’s laws regarding all water from oil and gas drilling operations by ODNR.
Patriot remained closed until the state’s Ohio Environmental Review Appeals Commission made a disputed ruling in July, which Patriot, ODNR and the Ohio EPA claimed supported their ideas.
Patriot treats lower-salt-content water generated from fracking, a process in which sand, water and chemicals are pumped into shale at a high pressure to release the gas trapped within the rock thousands of feet underground. The company does not handle the higher-salt-content brine that is disposed of through injection wells.
The Ohio EPA gave Patriot a permit in 2010 and another to the city of Warren in 2012 that allowed the company to operate and send its product to the Warren Water Treatment plant before it is released into the Mahoning River. The Ohio EPA coordinated with ODNR before issuing the permit. At that time, ODNR stated the Patriot permit was in compliance with ODNR regulations, according to the case filing.
“It is reprehensible that state agencies would publicly take positions against my company that they knew were untrue and then prevent us from having access to the public documents undercutting the state’s claims,” said Andrew Blocksom, Patriot president, in a statement. “Because of ODNR’s decision to conceal public documents, dozens of families struggled unnecessarily. Today, I am proud to stand up to the state and ask them to be accountable for these actions.”
The complaint alleges that as early as May 2011, one day after the state announced that it intended to revoke permits for both Patriot and the city of Warren, Patriot asked for public records from ODNR to defend itself against the state’s change in policy. However, ODNR failed to turn over records, including records that were damaging to the state, according to a statement from Patriot.
“The fact that ODNR thinks hiding or destroying public documents is acceptable is appalling,” Blocksom said. “Had ODNR followed the law, I would not have had to engage in multiple pieces of litigation or been forced to shutter my business for months.”
Patriot and the Warren water treatment facility were inspected by the U.S. EPA in August, which provided a 900-page report confirming compliance, according to Patriot.
The state does not receive payment for the water that Patriot receives, but ODNR does receive a fee for brine disposed of through injection wells, according to the suit.
The state’s decisions were all about shutting down competition, not environmental concerns, Blocksom said.
Representatives from ODNR said they do not comment on threatened or pending lawsuits.