The state has come down hard on the two Youngstown companies involved in the recent illegal dumping of drilling waste into a storm sewer draining into the Mahoning River. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources revoked permits to operate injection wells. It also nixed applications for permits to open new ones. Temporary storage operations on Salt Springs Road, where the dumping occurred, will cease, and a permit to haul waste from oil and gas drilling sites was revoked.
That sends the right signals. As the cleanup continues, the state Environmental Protection Agency is pursuing a criminal investigation. It should seek the maximum penalties against Ben Lupo, the owner of Hardrock Excavating and D&L Energy Group. D&L has a history of violations, its injection well on Salt Springs Road shut down in 2011 after it was linked to a series of earthquakes. The Department of Natural Resources has asked the state attorney general to start civil proceedings.
Still, punishment after the fact is not enough. Oil and gas drilling operations must be carefully monitored before and during operations, the release of harsh and toxic chemicals into the environment carrying the potential for long-lasting and serious damage to the environment and human health. Mistakes may be rare. But when they do occur, the consequences can be enormous.
Besides the legal proceedings and cleanup, the state should re-examine carefully how industry trade secrets are handled, specific information about chemicals used in drilling of vital importance to medical professionals, first responders, such as fire departments, and local residents. Rather than having medical professionals apply for information from companies to treat patients, it should be in Natural Resources files, readily and more widely available in the event of a spill.
Another area deserving a close look is how drilling and related activities are inspected. The governor has proposed an increase in the severance tax but wants to use the money to help offset another cut in state income tax rates. The first claim on the money should be to field enough inspectors to make sure spills don’t happen in the first place.