Ohio bill steps up punishment for ‘fracking’ waste law violators

Mary Kuhlman Ohio News Connection Published:

COLUMBUS — Violators of “fracking” waste laws may soon face tougher penalties in the Buckeye State. Just a few weeks after an incident involving the illegal dumping of hundreds of thousands of gallons of drilling waste into a storm sewer leading to a Youngstown-area river, state senators Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) and Frank LaRose (R-Akron) have introduced legislation to crack down on improper disposal of oil and gas drilling waste.

Schiavoni said he heard from residents who are worried that it could happen again.

“This time it was in the Mahoning River, but who’s to say that the next time, somebody might decide they want to dump in a reservoir - that’s the concern that people are voicing to me. They are very concerned about their water.”

LaRose said he hopes the legislation gets support from the oil and gas industry. It’s not intended to attack those who make an innocent error, he added, but to stop those who choose to violate the law.

“I really believe that most oil and gas operators want to comply by the rules,” he said. “In this case, we’re looking to go after the truly bad actors, the criminals who are cutting corners and putting our environment in jeopardy.”

Schiavoni said the “fracking” boom has presented a good opportunity to create jobs, but he cautioned that the health of residents and the environment must also be a priority.

“We’re deriving a lot of economic benefit from it,” he said, “but we have to make sure that people know that if they are going to intentionally and knowingly violate the state law, there is going to be a heavy price to pay.”

LaRose pointed out that the perpetrator in the Youngstown incident was caught after an anonymous tip. He said state law enforcers cannot be everywhere at all times, and he encouraged all residents to be watchful.

“If we think there’s something going wrong, then we need to report it to the authorities so they can investigate,” he said. “That’s all of us working together to make sure the right things are happening here in Ohio.”

The bill increases the penalties for violating state oil and gas law relating to the improper disposal, transport and management of brine so the punishment matches federal law. It elevates the crime to a felony, with a minimum sentence of three years in prison and a $10,000 fine. It also requires the state to revoke and deny future permits to any individual or company convicted of illegal dumping.

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