The owner of a Youngstown oil-and-gas-drilling company was sentenced Tuesday to 28 months in prison for ordering employees to dump tens of thousands of gallons of fracking waste into a tributary of the Mahoning River.The river supplies drinking water to the towns of Newton Falls and Sebring, whose combined population is 9,000. The case was prosecuted under provisions of the Clean Water Act.
U.S. District Judge Donald Nugent also fined Benedict Lupo, 64, of suburban Poland $25,000. Nugent rejected defense attorney Roger Synenberg's request for home detention and a harsh fine.
Lupo pleaded guilty to having his employees at the Hardrock Excavating LLC dump a toxic combination “consisting of saltwater brine and a slurry of toxic oil-based drilling mud, containing benzene, toluene and other hazardous pollutants.” They tried to persuade him against dumping this fracking waste, but he would not give in and they wound up following those orders 33 times. They did so under cover of darkness after other employees had left the facility, purging holding tanks where the waste was stored. Lupo told them to lie if questioned. One of the employees was finally caught in the act by regulators.
The dumping turned a section of the river into a dead zone. It took six weeks to clean up. The two employees were previously sentenced to three years of probation. For the 64-year-old Lupo, who must submit to dialysis and has other health issues, the prison term would be a death sentence, his lawyer told the court before sentencing was pronounced.
Emily Atkin notes that the Center for Public Integrity has found that out of thousands of cases opened since 1990, only about 1,600 Clean Water Act prosecutions have led to fines or prison time.