The Ohio Oil and Gas Commission, which was scheduled to hear arguments and decide whether to temporarily reinstate the operating permits of D&L Energy, abruptly canceled its hearing Friday morning.
Linda Osterman, executive director of the five-seat committee, said one of its members, Robert Frost of the Cleveland-based law firm Tucker Ellis, decided to recuse himself from the proceedings due to a conflict of interest.
Though Osterman did not know the specifics of his decision, she said Frost learned that there could be a “potential conflict” after he realized that a partner at his law firm was somehow involved with either D&L or the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management.
It is unclear when the hearing will be rescheduled, but Osterman said it soon will be irrelevant because a formal hearing is scheduled to permanently decide the fate of D&L’s waste-disposal operations in the state. That hearing is set for May 22 and 23.
D&L filed an appeal against the division’s decision in February to revoke its permits to operate injection wells across the state and store waste at its Youngstown headquarters.
The company was seeking to temporarily lift the order so that it could continue with operations until a final decision was made at the May hearing.
The order came after an incident in January when, state and federal regulators said, Michael P. Guesman, an employee of Hardrock Excavating, which shares property and ownership with D&L, had been ordered to dump hundreds of thousands of gallons of drilling waste down a storm drain on the company’s property.
Friday morning, D&L and ODNR were expected to make oral arguments against each other in front of the commission, an independent body of review that hears arguments against decisions made by ODNR’s Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management.
According to documents filed with the commission, D&L feels it is being unfairly punished for the actions of its sister company. At one time, both were owned by Ben W. Lupo, who has been charged with violating the Clean Water Act and has since transferred the ownership of D&L to his wife.
D&L claims its ability to operate as a company has been adversely affected with the majority of its revenue stream cut off.
The commission, which is filled by appointments from Gov. Josh Kasich, has only three members at this point in time. With Frost’s removal, by law the commission cannot hear any case.
Osterman said the law allows the commission to “borrow a temporary commission member” from the technical advisory council, a wing of ODNR.