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Last week a federal grand jury indicted the owner of a large natural gas drilling operation for dumping fracking waste into storm drains in northern Ohio. According to his employees, about 400,000 gallons of toxic waste were dumped into drains that fed directly into a tributary of the Mahoning River. How ironic for a company that trumpets itself as "developing new energy sources while respecting the environment."

D&L and its coordinated divisions utilize industry best practices in developing and producing oil and gas wells. From land leasing to end user sales of oil and natural gas, D&L management ensures:

--Environmental accountability and responsibility
--High safety standards for employees and our host communities
--Full compliance with all state and federal regulations
--Voluntary practices that exceed current laws and regulations for soil, water, air and minerals management
--Industry leading innovation in all aspects of our operation

While federal and state officials are patting themselves on the back about their rigorous investigation and prosecution of illegal dumping of toxic fracking waste, this case bears closer inspection.

Take a look at the extraordinary circumstances that led to the indictment and arrest.

In the Lupo case, court documents state, an anonymous tipster alerted authorities from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources that the improper dumping of fracking waste was occurring, and state agents observed the crime as it was being committed, court documents said.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, article by James McCarty

Someone saw the illegal dumping in the middle of the night, reported it to state officials, and the company was later caught in the act. Without being caught in the act, the case would rest on circumstantial evidence, namely eye witness testimony and the dump site testing positive for drilling waste products. The owner would have not admitted to multiple felonies without a much stronger case against him.

There is also the frequency of dumping. According to the employee sent to do the midnight dumping, he emptied the 20,000 gallon waste storage tank in the storm drain on at least 20 different occasions. That is a great deal of toxic waste to dump in the same location again and again. They might have gotten away with smaller amounts and other dumping locations.

The company has been in business since 1986 and the owner knew how to limit detection. Only one employee was involved and the dumping always took place at night after all other employees had left for the day. That employee was carefully coached on what to say to investigators if caught. And yet we are supposed to believe that all of this only took place during a 3-month period from November to January.

One more piece to the puzzle. D & L Energy owns and operates injection wells used to legally dispose of fracking waste in Ohio. I know this because one of their injection wells has been the subject of controversy because of high levels of seismic activity.

(March 9, 2012)(Youngstown, Ohio)- D&L Energy Group, an energy exploration and production company with headquarters in Youngstown, Ohio, makes the following observations on the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ (ODNR) latest news release outlining a preliminary report on seismic activity in Youngstown.

ODNR makes its preliminary conclusions without conducting any testing at the Northstar No. 1 well site. The agency appears satisfied to base it conclusions on the limited scientific data available from outside sources.

D&L prepared, drilled and is now the operating manager of the Northstar No.1 injection well in full compliance with ODNR permits and supervision. Everything done at the Northstar No. 1 well site was done with ODNR knowledge and approval. These statements apply to all other injection wells D&L either currently operates or has in development.

While ODNR repudiates drilling into the Precambrian formation now, the agency permitted D&L to do so in the case of the Northstar No. 1 well and then used this site to collect geological information. The current preliminary report does not indicate ODNR accepts any responsibility for its decision.

D&L has been in constant contact with ODNR regarding extensive testing the agency asked us to conduct to investigate any possible connections between seismic activity and the Northstar No. 1 well (sometimes referred to as the Ohio Works well in previous releases).

The D&L research project will provide scientifically sound data in excess of what is available now. It is unfortunate ODNR pre-empted a thorough search for information, opting instead for a politically expedient preliminary report that sacrifices true understanding for haste.

Given the costs of new research, which could reach as high as $1 million and will be borne by D&L and not the state nor the taxpayers, we ask why ODNR asked us to do the work if the agency had no interest in the results.

D&L reminds ODNR and the community that the Northstar No. 1 well is currently inactive. It is not accepting water for injections. Given this idle status, there is no reason to rush and accept bad or incomplete science.

D&L has no immediate reaction to the proposed changes in injection well regulations except to state the company has always been an environmentally responsible and legally operating energy producer that voluntarily implements industry best practices that exceed current laws and regulations.

D&L intends to continue with its study pending ODNR approval In fact, today’s report comes as a surprise as D&L and ODNR has a meeting scheduled in Columbus later this month to discuss the D&L study proposal. D&L calls on ODNR to let science guide its regulatory actions and to remain open to the data they requested in the first place.

Did I mention that D & L Energy had a history of environmental violations and compliance problems at their wells, with some infractions going back to 1987? Despite this less than stellar record, they still were able to obtain a bevy of permits, including operation of six active gas wells and several waste injection wells, before getting caught illegally dumping.

All in all, it sounds like a mixture of bad luck, stupidity, and arrogance conspired to bring down Benedict Lupo and his D & L Energy Group.

In addition to large amount of waste fluids generated, high cost of legal disposal, and relatively low fines for illegal dumping, there is something else about shale gas wells that you should probably know. Analysts have been warning that the wells have a very rapid depletion rate. David Hughes studied all available data on well production from major shale formations in the US, including the Marcellus formation where D&L Energy has some of the their operations. This graph shows the depletion rate for gas wells in the Marcellus formation over four years. The wells tend to play out quickly, leaving smaller drilling operations with cash flow problems.

 photo DeclineCurve_zps83207f18.gif
Depending on the selling price of natural gas and how fast wells play out, the temptation to cut corners on waste disposal can be very high.

One final tidbit. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine admits that Ohio rules are much weaker than federal rules.

"This case is a reminder that we should look at making state law equal to federal law when it comes to protecting the waters of Ohio."
Funny how the oil and gas industry keeps advocating that states take the lead in regulating drilling, emissions, and waste streams.

Back to my original question. Do you believe that the Ohio illegal dumping case is rare or far more common than our glorious public servants are willing to admit? I believe the incentives for breaking the law are high and the chances of getting caught are low, which is certainly going to tempt drillers suddenly facing cash flow issues to think about a little midnight dumping. As might be expected, state officials claim these dumping escapades are rare.

“This incident is very disappointing and one of a small percentage of egregious environmental violations we see at Ohio EPA that must be prosecuted criminally,” Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally said.
They also pretend that scofflaws will be caught and prosecuted.
"This case demonstrates that if companies and their senior managers try to save money by circumventing environmental laws, they will be vigorously prosecuted.”

Randall Ashe, special agent for the Ohio EPA

Meanwhile, downstream from where 400,000 gallons of drilling mud and well waste water were dumped into a creek near the Mahoning River, neighboring communities were not notified of any potential threat to the safety of their drinking water.
BEAVER FALLS -- When officials failed to immediately inform the public of the illegal dumping of thousands of gallons of fracking wastewater in Youngstown, Ohio, last month, they also failed to do something else -- notify those downstream.

The first municipal treatment plant downstream of the spill is the Beaver Falls Municipal Authority, which provides water for 17,000 customers in 22 communities in Beaver County, and Zelienople.

The Beaver Falls Municipal Authority has long struggled with its susceptibility to contamination from hazardous river spills, so it closely monitors reports of any incidents.

However, authority general manager Jim Riggio said they did not get that chance with the recent dumping of fracking wastewater and drilling mud into a tributary that feeds the Mahoning River. The river converges with the Shenango River to form the Beaver River, from where the authority draws its water.

Beaver Falls Times, article by Rachel Morgan and Patrick O'Shea

Good thing this story did not get much attention outside of Ohio. (The only coverage I could find outside of Ohio media sources was in the Huffington Post.) It might raise questions about the 'drill, baby, drill' policy and associated fracking madness sweeping state and federal officials.

Originally posted to DWG on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 01:31 PM PST.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots and Climate Change SOS.

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