Citizens call for ODNR investigation
By Jamison Cocklin
More than 200 concerned citizens across the state are asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a full investigation of the state’s underground injection-well program.
During a joint press conference in Ravenna, Columbus, Athens and Youngstown on Monday, community activists from groups such as the Buckeye Forest Council, FrackFree Mahoning Valley and the Center for Health, Environment and Justice chastised the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management for what they called insufficient regulation and a disregard for public well-being.
“ODNR’s [underground injection-control] violation and enforcement history records make it clear that ODNR’s UIC unit is not in compliance with federal law,” wrote the group in a letter to the U.S. EPA, which in 1983 granted ODNR primacy in regulating the disposal of brine and other wastes produced by oil and gas drilling in Class II injection wells.
Ohio, along with 33 other states, has full control over such programs, while the U.S. EPA still regulates and oversees underground injection in 17 states.
According to the letter, the request stems in part from the recent state and federal investigations launched in response to an incident Jan. 31 when it was learned that D&L Energy owner Ben W. Lupo instructed one of his employees to dump a mixture of brine, oil and drilling mud down a storm drain that eventually leaked into a tributary and into the Mahoning River.
Although Lupo has since been charged with violating the Clean Water Act, and his operating permits at D&L Energy and Hardrock Excavating, another company he owns, have been revoked, activists claim the agency waited too long to make such a move, citing a series of Vindicator investigations in which it was discovered that Lupo has more than 120 recent environmental violations in Ohio and Pennsylvania and an extensive history of violating operating laws.
“A repeat offender, if they have this pattern of behavior over decades should certainly throw up a red flag for an agency that permits, regulates and enforces,” said Susie Beiersdorfer, an activist with FrackFree Mahoning Valley.
The letter also asks the U.S. EPA to suspend ODNR’s primacy in regulating Class II injection wells until the investigation is completed.
The U.S. EPA’s regional office in Chicago did not return questions seeking a comment Monday.
Dan Alfaro, a spokesman for Energy InDepth, an industry outreach group, said the request has no teeth because the state’s laws governing injection wells are stronger than federal laws.
Bethany McCorkle, spokeswoman for ODNR, said the agency is exploring ways to strengthen such provisions and make it harder for repeat violators to get permits, something state law does not provide for.