Oil, gas companies need to police contractors

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

Federal prosecutors are charging the owner of Hardrock Excavating LLC with violating the U.S. Clean Water Act. They say the company’s owner, Ben Lupo, ordered 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, Lupo could be fined as much as $250,000.

Less serious action was taken by officials at the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, which 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 West Virginia DEP proceeds with an agreement with Michels, the firm will stop storing waste drilling mud at the site.

In both cases, the companies were subcontractors providing services for larger drilling companies. The larger companies need to insist on proper conduct by the smaller companies with which they do business.

If Lupo is convicted and fined the full amount, other companies will be deterred from similar misconduct. It would also help if prosecutors pursued charges against the Hardrock worker who carried out Lupo’s order. The ”I was just doing my job” defense has little credence since, according to one report, Lupo told the worker to carry out his actions only in the dark and only if nobody else is around.

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 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, even if it means being told their services no longer are desired.