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and David Skolnick
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday that approximately 40,000 gallons of oil debris has been collected at the site near 2761 Salt Springs Road, where drilling waste was intentionally dumped into a storm drain last week.
It was the federal agency’s first official statement on the matter, more than a week after state regulators revealed that Ben W. Lupo, owner of Hardrock Excavating and D&L Energy, had instructed an employee to dump the waste in violation of federal and state law, according to preliminary reports and an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency notice of violation signed by Lupo.
Jeff Lippert, the OEPA’s on-scene coordinator, said the debris consisted of oil, drilling mud and brine. Though it’s difficult to tell, he estimated that between 1,000 and 1,500 gallons of the waste was entirely oil.
The agency also said approximately 42 cubic yards of oiled debris has been recovered for proper disposal in a nonhazardous landfill. Lippert said that figure translates to thousands of 1-foot-by-1-foot absorbent pads that soak up only oil.
Asked how U.S. EPA officials had settled on the 40,000-gallon figure, Lippert said that two 20,000-gallon storage tanks on-site had been filled with residual waste extracted from the storm-sewer system, a nearby creek and the Mahoning River.
He added that the spill is a relatively small one when compared with recent events such as the BP spill off the Gulf Coast or the spill in Marshall, Mich., both in 2010, but said his agency treats any incident, no mater how severe, the same because of the environmental implications.
Both the OEPA and the U.S. EPA will continue their cleanup efforts throughout the weekend and into next week. Lippert estimates that those efforts have cost his agency $20,000 as of Friday. Employees of D&L Energy, about 12 to 24 daily, have been aiding in the cleanup, he said.
Chris Abbruzzese, deputy director of communications for the OEPA, said it’s too early for the state to speculate on its costs. He insisted, however, that Hardrock and other responsible parties would be liable and forced to reimburse the state.
Regulators are still awaiting test results from samples taken at the site to determine what chemicals were in the fluid. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources on Thursday officially confirmed that the source of the wastewater at Hardrock’s headquarters was a storage tank, but investigators have not determined if the tank was full of brine or just remnants picked up by an employee washing the tank.
Lippert said the U.S. EPA’s criminal investigation division was on-site, signaling the likelihood that Hardrock and other parties could face federal charges — though he could not confirm that Friday.
Mayor Charles Sammarone criticized state officials for permitting D&L Energy and other companies owned by Lupo to operate in Ohio after a D&L brine-injection well in the city was found to be the epicenter of 13 earthquakes.
The most serious of the quakes, occurring Dec. 31, 2011, led the state to close that well and suspend four others within a 7-mile radius. But it didn’t shut down Lupo’s other businesses.
“They should have been tougher on [D&L] the first time,” Sammarone said Friday in his first public comments about Hardrock Excavating’s decision last week to dump thousands of gallons of drilling waste into a storm drain in the city that empties into the Mahoning River.
“They should have shut him down after the [Dec. 31] earthquake and pulled his permits for all his businesses,” Sammarone said. “This guy should not be allowed to open again.”
Lupo owns numerous companies based at 2761 Salt Springs Road.
The ODNR also announced Thursday it has permanently revoked the operating permits of D&L and Hardrock, but not the other companies, as many as 20 that are owned by Lupo at that same address.
Lupo was given 24 hours to request an informal hearing to present evidence against the revocation with the chief of ODNR’s Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management, Richard Simmers. The agency confirmed Friday that Lupo had made the request.
Sammarone said he is “shocked” the state gave permits to D&L, which has at least 120 violations at 32 injection and extraction wells in Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to a 2012 investigation by The Vindicator.
“Why would you give the guy a permit in the state of Ohio after all those violations?” Sammarone asked. “How did that happen?”
Years ago, the state took control of gas and oil well permits away from municipalities.
“This is why I oppose the state controlling drilling,” Sammarone said. “The city should control permits and be allowed to shut down businesses. We are at the mercy of the state when it comes to permitting, licensing and inspecting wells. When we were doing it, we didn’t have problems. If it’s in our city, we should control what happens and what doesn’t happen. We have to live with the problem. If we don’t have the expertise, we’d ask the state for help.”
Meanwhile, state Rep. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-58th, a vocal critic of the dumping, called Friday for city and Mahoning County prosecutors to pursue criminal charges against Lupo.
“People say, ‘Someone else will handle it,’” Hagan said. “It’s a serious criminal offense. All you have to do is charge [Lupo], arrest him, issue a bond and let him out.
“Those who violate the law need to be prosecuted.”
Hagan had a Friday press conference with Ben Shapiro of Youngstown, one of seven arrested Nov. 30, 2011, and convicted of disorderly conduct for blocking the entrance to D&L’s facilities and not permitting trucks to go in and out.
The seven spent a day in the county jail after refusing to move when asked to do so by city police.
“This is not equal justice under the law,” said Shapiro, who added his record has since been expunged. “We were there to protect the water and were arrested. I’m disappointed [Lupo] is walking around free.”
County Prosecutor Paul Gains said, “We are on top of this and our people are in contact with the Northeast Ohio Environmental Crimes Task Force [a state EPA criminal investigatory agency]. Like any other matter, we have to wait until an investigation is complete, and that includes testing of the material.”
Youngstown Fire Chief John J. O’Neill Jr. recently said he spoke with an OEPA official, and “they plan on filing state and federal charges against the appropriate parties.”
City Prosecutor Dana Lantz said she received Hagan’s letter.
The potential charges appear to be felonies, she said, which would be handed over to the county for possible prosecution.