YOUNGSTOWN — A source inside the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Oil and Gas has verified that the regulatory agency will revoke the permits of D&L Energy Group.
Both D&L and ODNR are expected to release statements on the matter sometime later today.
The news comes a week after regulators with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the ODNR learned that D&L’s chief executive, Ben W. Lupo, had instructed an employee of Hard Rock Excavating, which he also owns, to dump thousands of gallons of fracking wastewater down a storm drain where both companies have their headquarters at 2761 Salt Spring Road.
A criminal investigation is under way as the waste — which included oil and brine water — made its way into the Mahoning River.
Details remain unclear for now, but if the company’s permits are revoked, it could severely restrict its business operations.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources permanently revoked permits for D&L Energy and Hardrock Excavating, the companies at the center of state civil and criminal investigations that could ultimately involve its federal investigators.
Sources with knowledge of the proceedings said D&L and Hardrock owner Ben Lupo, who the EPA accused of dumping as much as 40,000 gallons for brine into a storm sewer that connects directly into the Mahoning River at both company’s Salt Springs Road business, was given the notice of his permit revocation on Wednesday.
ODNR said they permanently revoked D&L permits for all six of their injection wells in the state and denied applications for three more and was ordered to immediately cease all operations at their injection wells and any temporary storage operations at their 2761 Salt Springs Road address.
ODNR also revoked Hardrock Excavating’s brine hauler permit, which allowed it to transport brine from drilling rigs to its facility.
The agency also requested the Ohio Attorney General to initiate civil proceedings.
D&L is expected to issue a statement shortly.
The station has made a public records request for test results that are expected to show exactly what chemicals were dumped into the Mahoning River.
ODNR and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency used containment booms, absorbent pads, vacuum trucks and other equipment to contain and clean the spill out of the storm drain and the Mahoning River.
"Ohio has enacted some of the most comprehensive oil and gas regulations in the nation to safeguard the public and the environment," said ODNR Director James Zehringer in a statement. "ODNR treats all allegations of wrongdoing involving oilfield waste very seriously and will continue to aggressively investigate each of these cases to ensure violators are held accountable."
Ohio EPA documents indicate workers with Hardrock dumped brine into the storm sewers on Lupo’s direction. The material was dumped from a Hardrock tanker, according to reports.
The EPA report states the ODNR received an anonymous tip about the dumping and ODNR inspectors witnessed the dumping on Thursday evening. It said Lupo contacted ODNR inspectors and "accepted full responsibilities."
Politicians have said they plan to make an example of Lupo by pursuing the harshest criminal and civil penalties against Lupo, the first oil and gas company to be criminally investigated for dumping chemicals into public waterways.
State law says those convicted of violating state dumping laws can be sent to jail for up to six months and fined $10,000 on a first offense and each subsequent offense brings a two-year prison term and a $20,000 fine.
If federal investigators decide to take over the investigation and charge Lupo or the companies with violating the Clean Water Act, federal penalties include a $50,000 fine per day the violation occurs and three years in federal prison.
However, at this point, no one can say for sure who may ultimately be charged in the incident.
Anti-fracking activists have spoken out against D&L, the company the EPA said caused Youngstown’s first four earthquakes in history in 2011 by their injection-well practices, including one with a 4.0 magnitude.
"We are working as fast as possible to complete this clean up because a warming trend into the weekend could make the work more challenging as things thaw," said Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally in a statement.