Warm weather hastens brine spill cleanup

With temperatures today and Friday forecast in the 30s, crews working to clean oil field waste from Youngstown storm sewers and area waterways are picking up the pace.

A thaw could bring high amounts of runoff into the storm sewers the crews have been working to clean for the past six days.

”It looks like we could get a warming trend in the next few days which could cause some problems for our responders on the scene,” said Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Deputy Director for Communications Chris Abbruzzese. “They are aware of that, and they are working tirelessly.”

Abbruzzese acknowledged the criminal investigation into how an estimated 20,000 gallons of brine and crude oil got into the sewer system is continuing, but he said cleanup at this point, is the main focus.

Documents released Tuesday by the Ohio EPA indicate the oil field waste was dumped intentionally Jan. 31 by an employee of Hardrock Excavating, 2761 Salt Springs Road, at the direction of the company’s owner Ben Lupo.

Attempts to reach Lupo have been unsuccessful.

Reports show the discharge occurred about 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Cleanup began Friday. No criminal charges have been filed as the investigation continues.

Abbruzzese declined to estimate how much waste was discharged or whether there was evidence of prior discharge.

”That is why we are investigating this, to answer those types of questions,” he said. ”That’s part of our criminal investigation, to determine how much.”

Speaking as a representative of the state’s oil and gas industry, Ohio Oil and Gas Association executive vice president Thomas E. Stewart on Wednesday expressed his concern with the alleged dumping and said the organization is closely monitoring the situation.

”Though facts about the incident are still coming to light, if a person or company purposely violated Ohio’s laws and regulations concerning the proper disposal of oilfield wastewater, we believe that they should be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” Stewart said.

The Ohio Oil and Gas Association is a trade association with more than 3,200 members involved in the exploration, production and development of crude oil and natural gas resources in Ohio.

Pointing out the possible effects the spill could have on the area’s environment and economy, U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan, D-Niles, reacted angrily on Wednesday.

”The natural gas industry could be a huge boon to our economy, but only if everyone is adhering to the Ohio rules and regulations. Anyone who purposely puts Ohio’s environment in harm’s way should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” Ryan said.

Anti-frac activists on Wednesday also reacted by blasting officials for not disclosing information about the quantity of waste and the chemicals involved, and calling for brisk prosecution in the case and more aggressive steps to protect the state’s public health and environment from future threats.

“We have a legislature that seems more interested in greasing the wheels for fracking companies than protecting public health and the environment – that only enables reckless behavior,” said Julian Boggs, Environment Ohio State Policy Advocate. Environment Ohio is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization.