Ben W. Lupo, owner of D&L Energy and Hardrock Excavating, admitted he ordered employees to dump drilling waste into a city storm drain at least five times before being caught Jan. 31, an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency official said.
Each time, starting in September 2012, Lupo had workers empty two 21,000-gallon tanks of brine material and oil-based mud, Kurt Kollar, on-scene coordinator for the OEPA’s Division of Emergency and Remedial Response, said Monday.
That totals 252,000 gallons of waste dumped.
“That’s what he’s indicating,” Kollar said about what Lupo told him.
Kollar made the first public statements, during a Monday meeting with city officials and the media, about a pattern of dumping by Lupo. The meeting was called by Mayor Charles Sammarone.
The revelation was made public more than a week after an anonymous tip led state investigators to discover the Jan. 31 dumping.
The OEPA’s special investigation unit is reviewing the matter as a “potential criminal case,” Kollar said.
The U.S. EPA’s criminal-investigation division is also on site at the D&L/Hardrock location on Salt Springs Road, investigating Hardrock and Lupo.
Sammarone is calling for Lupo to be prosecuted and said the city could file criminal charges.
Cleanup, which could take another week or two, shows evidence of previous dumping, Kollar said.
“As [Lupo] put it, ‘I did it at night because I was doing the right thing. I didn’t want someone thinking I was doing the wrong thing and create an uproar,’” Kollar said.
But Lupo was improperly dumping brine, drilling waste and oil-based mud into the storm sewer, Kollar said.
The materials dumped don’t pose “an imminent threat,” but Kollar said, “You don’t want it in your creek.”
If you look at the water in the creek, it appears to be “crystal clean. If you stick your boot or throw a rock down in the sediment, a big pocket of oil comes up,” he said.
The early results of an ongoing criminal investigation had shown Lupo directed employees to dump a mix of oil and brine water down a storm drain at Hardrock’s headquarters at 2761 Salt Springs Road on Jan. 31.
It wasn’t until Kollar’s statements Monday that it was revealed Lupo admitted having done it at least five other times.
Asked if he could confirm that Lupo had admitted to dumping similar drilling wastes on at least six previous occasions at D&L headquarters, company spokesman Vince Bevacqua said it was the first he’s heard of Lupo’s discussion with regulators. He could not comment further on Monday.
“Thank goodness this is not an everyday occurrence,” said Kollar, who added dumping like this is “uncommon.”
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources gave D&L 45 days to get all of the drilling waste material off of its Salt Springs Road site, and the company is working nonstop to comply, Kollar said.
ODNR has permanently revoked operating permits of D&L and Hardrock, but not the other companies’ — as many as 20 — 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.
Kollar said ODNR has “issued basically a cease-and-desist order” to Lupo.
Sammarone criticized the state for permitting D&L, which has at least 120 violations at 32 injection and extraction wells in Ohio and Pennsylvania, to conduct business.
The dumping is near the site of D&L’s shuttered Northstar 1 injection well, which the ODNR linked to 13 earthquakes, the most serious of which occurred Dec. 31, 2011.
“It’s about time somebody in Columbus finally tells this guy, ‘You’re out of business,’” Sammarone said. “He seems to have a problem following the laws and the regulations for this type of business.”
The U.S. EPA said Monday that approximately 100,000 gallons of oil and water had been recovered from the ground, a nearby creek and the Mahoning River.
In an email, Francisco Aracute, agency spokesman, said most of what is being collected now is water.
He added that a warming trend over the weekend did not create problems for workers. Melting snow helped remove leftover debris and carry it downstream to containment booms.
The agency estimated that approximately 76 cubic yards of solid waste, including oil and other sediments, has been collected as well.
Contributor: Business writer Jamison Cocklin