Intentional oil, gas law breaking must be punished

Major gas and oil companies with drilling operations in our area seem to have a good-neighbor attitude about their operations. In most cases they try to follow all the local, state and federal rules and sometimes go beyond to ensure their work does not affect local residents adversely.

The same sometimes cannot be said about subcontractors employed by the big companies.

Just last week, authorities in both West Virginia and Ohio had to take action against companies that disposed of drilling waste improperly.

Officials at the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection have fined a Wisconsin company, Michels Pipeline Construction, $3,800 for placing drilling mud from an Antero Resources operation into an unlined pit near Ellenboro in Ritchie County. The practice allowed waste to be carried out of the pit and into a nearby stream.

If the DEP proceeds with an agreement with Michels, the firm will stop storing waste drilling mud at the site.

More serious action is being taken in Ohio, by federal prosecutors. They are charging the owner of Hardrock Excavating LLC with violating the U.S. Clean Water Act.

Officials say the company’s owner, Ben Lupo, directed that about 20,000 gallons of drilling mud and brine be dumped directly into a storm sewer that empties into the Mahoning River watershed. If convicted of that, Lupo could be fined as much as $250,000.

In both cases, the companies were providing services for drilling companies.

If Lupo is convicted and fined the full amount, other companies will be deterred from similar misconduct.

But in West Virginia, the $3,800 fine is, well, peanuts in comparison to the profits to be made by drilling industry subcontractors.

It needs to be noted another difference in the situations is that Michels was not accused of intentional wrongdoing, while Lupo is.

Big gas and oil companies should do their part to police subcontractors, as we have suggested previously. When intentional misconduct is found, subcontractors should face the wrath of companies for which they are working, too – by being told their services no longer are desired.