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Ohio injection well operator loses state appeal

Julie Carr Smyth, AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- An independent review board has upheld an order revoking the permits of a northeast Ohio injection-well operator whose former executive is charged with violating the federal Clean Water Act.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and the state Department of Natural Resources announced the Ohio Oil and Gas Commission's ruling Monday against Youngstown-based D&L Energy. The ruling was made Friday.

The state called it a significant step in the legal case against Ben Lupo, a sometime owner and president of D&L, who is charged with Clean Water Act violations for ordering an employee of his excavating company to repeatedly dump gas-drilling wastewater intended for an injection well into a storm sewer.

Both Lupo and the employee of Hardrock Excavating LLC have pleaded not guilty.

"The Commission's decision to deny D&L Energy's appeal is a win for the environment and for Ohio families," said State Natural Resources Director James Zehringer. "This ruling reinforces the efforts of Gov. John Kasich, ODNR, and Attorney General DeWine to ensure that people and companies who choose to break Ohio law will be held accountable."

D&L's attorney sought during the appeal hearing to distance the company from Lupo, calling him a "bad actor" who was not working for D&L during the alleged dumping incident. A message was left Monday with the attorney, Michael Cyphert, seeking comment.

Authorities allege that on Jan. 31 Lupo directed that at least 20,000 gallons of drilling mud and brine be discharged into a sewer that empties into the Mahoning River watershed. Such drilling wastewater is supposed to be placed in an underground well piped deep into the earth.

The state's lawyer told commissioners during the D&L hearing that Lupo was a key actor in several interrelated companies operating from the same address.

Charges brought against the 62-year-old Lupo, of Poland near Youngstown, by the U.S. Attorney's Office carry penalties of up to three years in prison, a $250,000 fine and a year of supervised release if convicted.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources revoked the permits of Hardrock and D&L after workers at the companies' Youngstown headquarters reported seeing the material being dumped. The order was issued by state oil and gas chief Rick Simmers.

Simmers' office is part of the Natural Resources Department.