The owner of a small Ohio oil and gas drilling company who ordered his employees to dump tens of thousands of gallons of fracking waste into a tributary of the Mahoning River was sentenced to 28 months of prison on Tuesday, according to a Cleveland Plain Dealer report.
U.S. District Judge Donald Nugent also ordered 64-year-old Benedict Lupo, owner of Hardrock Excavating LLC, to pay $25,000 for unlawful discharge of pollutants under the U.S. Clean Water Act. Lupo pleaded guilty to the charges in March, admitting to having his employees dump fracking wastewater into the Mahoning River tributary 33 times.
According to the Dealer, the wastewaster consisted of “saltwater brine and a slurry of toxic oil-based drilling mud, containing benzene, toluene and other hazardous pollutants.” The recurring pollution had a devastating effect on the creek’s ecosystem, according to assistant U.S. attorney Brad Beeson.
“Even the most pollution-tolerant organisms, such as nymphs and cadis flies, were not present,” Beeson said in a court document. “The creek was essentially dead.”
The pollution ultimately flowed into the Mahoning River, which is a source of public drinking water for the cities of Newton Falls and Sebring — a combined population of more than 9,000.
Lupo has publicly apologized to both residents of the Mahoning Valley and his family for the dumping, citing his deteriorating health as a reason for his actions. He suffers from chronic pain and diabetes, and has to have dialysis treatments daily, according to the Dealer.
“If this was 20 years ago, [the dumping] probably would have never happened,” Lupo said.
Lupo’s attorneys attempted to get Lupo out of his prison sentence because of his health, and instead put him on home detention, saying jail would be equivalent to “the death penalty.” But Nugent would not reconsider, citing the fact that Lupo had instructed his employees to lie about dumping the waste.
“Ben Lupo put his own interests ahead of everyone else’s, and he deserved to face a severe penalty for his actions,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said. “The recent water crisis in Toledo is a grave reminder of how important it is to protect our waterways.”
While it looks like Lupo will be going to prison, owners of big companies responsible for pollution rarely see jail time. BP CEO Tony Hayward isn’t facing jail time for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, nor is Shell’s CEO being personally prosecuted for the estimated 550 million gallons that have spilled in Nigeria’s Niger Delta over the past 50 years. That’s because it’s difficult in court to determine individual responsibility.
According to the Center for Public Integrity, out of thousands of cases opened since 1990, fewer than 800 Clean Air Act cases have led to fines or prison time. Almost twice as many Clean Water Act cases have been opened, and twice as many have resulted in fines or prison time.