Guilty plea in Clean Water Act case

A New Matamoras man has pleaded guilty to a violation of the Clean Water Act by allowing oil and gas well wastewater to flow into a tributary of the Little Muskingum River three years ago.

Robert D. Armstrong, 54, also entered a guilty plea on behalf of his company, RCA Oil and Gas LLC, which was charged with the same offense, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney Carter M. Stewart with the Southern District Court of Ohio.

Armstrong entered the guilty pleas Tuesday before U.S. District Court Judge Michael Watson, who had not set a sentencing date as of Wednesday afternoon.

But, according to court documents from Tuesday’s hearing, joint sentencing recommendations agreed to by both parties in the case include 48 hours of imprisonment, followed by eight months of home confinement, with work release time, for Armstrong.

Also recommended is 12 months of supervised release during which Armstrong would complete 288 hours of community service.

He would also agree to arrange for publication of a quarter-page ad in an oil and gas industry magazine, listing the requirements for proper disposal of brine waste and the consequences for failing to do so.

The amount of any fine would be determined by the court.

The maximum sentence that Armstrong could face is three years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and a year of supervised release.

Armstrong initially pleaded not guilty to the offense when first indicted on Nov. 29, 2012.

The pollution violation took place in June 2010 at an RCA well off Monroe County 19, about five miles north of New Matamoras in Benton Township.

Armstrong had built a reservoir with an earthen wall to hold water he intended to use in the fracking process of a nearby well.

The reservoir contained approximately 2.2 million gallons of fresh water. But Armstrong had added thousands of gallons of brine or wastewater from the fracking process at two other oil and gas wells to the reservoir.

As a result of the addition, all of the liquid in the reservoir was classified as oil field wastewater.

On June 19, 2010, Armstrong used a backhoe to breach a wall of the reservoir, releasing the wastewater into Rockcamp Run. The reservoir contained about 800,000 gallons of wastewater at the time, most of which entered Rockcamp Run.

Analysis of wastewater from the reservoir showed significant concentrations of barium and sodium.

Ingesting drinking water containing higher levels of barium than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drinking water guidelines of 20 milligrams per liter can cause gastrointestinal disturbances and muscle weakness with short-term exposure and kidney damage over a longer period of time.