By Jamison Cocklin
Two state regulatory agencies are conducting a criminal investigation into how or even why up to 20,000 gallons of suspected fracking waste — which may have contained oil and brine water — were dumped into a storm drain near the site of the D&L Energy Group headquarters on Salt Springs Road.
In fact, it remains unclear altogether who is responsible, as neither of the agencies investigating the incident — the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources — is releasing the names of those involved or any detailed specifics.
“D&L Energy confirms that the OEPA and the ODNR are apparently looking into an incident which occurred on D&L-owned property Thursday of last week,” wrote D&L spokesman Vince Bevacqua in a statement. “We wish to state clearly that D&L Energy was not involved in the incident.
“Other companies were operating on D&L property at the time of the incident,” the statement continued. “It is D&L’s understanding that those other companies are working with state authorities to determine exactly what happened and why.”
According to a preliminary report filed with the National Response Center, a federal call center that first takes reports and routes them to regulatory agencies, “an unknown amount of crude oil and brine were intentionally dumped into a storm drain at 2761 Salt Springs Road” about 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
The report details that as much as 20,000 gallons of the substance made its way through the drain and into a tributary that fed the Mahoning River, which is listed as the area primarily affected on the report.
Once ODNR and the OEPA began their investigation, Gov. John Kasich was briefed on the matter, said spokesman Robert Nichols, a fact he said is no indication of the severity of the spill.
However, officials with the city of Youngstown remain mostly in the dark on specifics. Chuck Shasho, deputy director of public works, said ODNR contacted him late Friday to notify him of the “potential discharge” at D&L and asked him to aid a response team in locating the drain’s outlet to the river.
Once inspectors located the discharge point at a creek in the rear of the Toys “R” Us Distribution Center just off Salt Springs Road on Geoffrey Trail, the Youngstown Fire Department was called to the scene to help a response team gain access to the tributary, Shasho said.
“I don’t know how much was spilled or what the status of the cleanup is,” he added. “We’ll be in contact with the [OEPA] so they can bring us up to speed. They did notify us like they were supposed to.”
Mayor Chuck Sammarone could not be reached Monday; instead his chief of staff DeMaine Kitchen, who said it was “the first he’s heard” of the incident, referred The Vindicator to Shasho.
For the time being, details of the dumping will remain scant said OEPA spokesman Mike Settles, who called the situation “sensitive” in explaining his agency’s decision to release a cursory statement on the matter four days after the incident.
Repeated calls to multiple officials at ODNR were not returned Monday.
“Agency responders confirmed a release of oil and other oil field wastes to the storm drain, an unnamed tributary and the Mahoning River,” OEPA’s state- ment read. “Since Friday, our responders have directed the containment and cleanup of the discharged wastes.”
Containment booms, absorbent pads, vacuum trucks and other equipment are currently in place and work continues to clean out the “storm drain and remove any remaining product from the tributary,” the statement added.
Still, the spill remains cloaked in mystery — and suspicion. The incident apparently occurred near both D&L headquarters and the site of the shuttered Northstar 1 injection well the ODNR linked to 2011’s earthquakes. The agency has since placed an indefinite suspension on that well and four others within a seven-mile radius.
A byproduct of hydraulic fracking, injection wells are used to dispose of the chemical-laced wastewater — or brine water — used during fracking.
Adding to the mystery is how 20,000 gallons of suspected fracking fluid arrived at that location in the first place, since it was near the closed injection well. A typical tanker truck can hold a maximum of 8,000 gallons, which might indicate several trucks were at the location.
Bevacqua, D&L spokesman, was adamant that the incident had nothing to do with either an injection well or D&L. He pointed to the two other companies operating at the site, which he said he was not author-ized to speak for.
In the end, he added, the OEPA’s eventual findings and its final report on the dumping will prove that D&L was not at fault, he said.
When asked if any of the dozens of other companies shown by public records to be affiliated with or owned by D&L’s chief executive, Ben W. Lupo, were responsible, Bevacqua insisted that any such suspicions were irrelevant, saying only that D&L operates separately of those entities and was not at all responsible.
A Vindicator investigation in 2012 revealed that D&L has a history of at least 120 violations at 32 injection and extraction wells across Ohio and Pennsylvania stemming from citations levied by environmental regulators for failing to display a permit or contaminating water and soil, among other things.
The OEPA said Monday that more information on the dumping incident on Salt Spring Road is forthcoming, but officials there could not say when.