Columbus-- Environmental groups have asked federal officials to investigate the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and shut down the state agency's injection well program after a Youngstown-area company was caught dumping oilfield wastes into a storm sewer.
The Buckeye Forest Council, the Center for Health, Environment and Justice and like-minded groups played host to press conferences March 18 near the Statehouse and in Youngstown, Ravenna and Athens, voicing concern that other drilling companies have continued operations despite repeat environmental violations.
"There are other violations and closure notices and continually operating injection wells across the state of Ohio," said Cheryl Johncox, executive director of the Buckeye Forest Council. "Ben Lupo is not an isolated incident. ... We're here today because we don't believe that the agency responsible for the lax enforcement and carrying out of this program should be investigating itself."
Lupo, owner of D&L Energy and Hardrock Excavating in Youngstown, is facing criminal charges in the Mahoning River dumping incidents.
Bethany McCorkle, ODNR spokeswoman, defended the agency's injection well regulations, calling them "some of the toughest" in the country.
"We have proven that bad actors in the industry will not get away with breaking the rules and putting the health of Ohioans or the environment at risk," she said in a released statement. "We are continually evaluating and updating our regulations. We are currently considering ways which would strengthen our ability to review the process for companies wanting to do business, including seeking authority to consider the past compliance history of existing Ohio companies and requiring new companies to disclose past convictions under the Clean Water Act."
The groups have asked the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency to conduct a "complete audit and investigation" of ODNR's injection well program and suspend operations of the program.
The request was made in a letter late last week to U.S. EPA's regional administrator from Teresa Mills, the Ohio representative for the Center for Health, Environment and Justice and fracking coordinator for the Buckeye Forest Council.
"The actions by Mr. Lupo and the lack of appropriate and adequate consequences by ODNR are just the latest in a long line of egregious problems with ODNR regulation of [injection wells] that citizens have found while reviewing inspection records," Mills wrote, adding later, "We, as citizens, do not believe that it is in the interest of the state for the agency responsible for issuing these permits to be the agency that investigates its own serious lack of enforcement and oversight over these permits."
Earlier this month, Mills filed a formal complaint with the same office, asking regulators to force state officials to provide greater public access to information about chemicals used in fracking.
Brian Rothenberg, executive director of Progress Ohio, called ODNR's oversight of the injection wells a "watchdog-less process" that favors industry interests over environmental protection.
"There's a balance here between the need for business and the need to protect the people that live in these areas, that don't know what chemicals are going into these injection wells, that don't know exactly what is happening in their rivers and streams with the water quality and water table," he said.
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.