HOLBROOK, Pa. (AP) - A waste hauler and his company were charged Thursday with dozens of criminal counts for what prosecutors said was years of dumping millions of gallons of wastewater from natural gas drilling, sewage sludge and restaurant grease into streams and mine shafts.
The state attorney general's office filed 98 criminal counts against Robert Allan Shipman and 77 counts against his company, Allan's Waste Water Service Inc.
Prosecutors said Holbrook told his drivers to open valves at natural gas drilling wells, often at night or during rainstorms, so the wastewater would run into nearby waterways. He also is accused of telling drivers to dump the contents of their trucks into a floor drain that led directly to a nearby stream.
The charges come as environmentalists raise concerns that the natural gas drilling rush sweeping Pennsylvania is contaminating rivers and aquifers that supply drinking water around the state.
At issue is the water produced by drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of gas wells and how it's disposed. The millions of gallons that come up from the wells are intensely salty and tainted with barium, strontium, radium, and toxic chemicals used in fracking.
"This was a calculated and long-running scheme to personally profit by illegally dumping wastewater, regardless of the potential for environmental damage," acting Attorney General Bill Ryan said.
Prosecutors said the dumping took place between 2003 and 2009.
A spokesman for the attorney general's office, Nils Frederiksen, said prosecutors are certain that the dumping caused adverse environmental impact but that it can be difficult to connect it to specific incidents.
The Environmental Protection Agency told Pennsylvania earlier this month to begin widespread testing for gas drilling wastewater contaminants not removed by water treatment plants. The state is the only one in the country that allows gas drillers to dispose of partially treated waste in its waterways, which supply drinking water.
The state has said that an initial round of tests indicated no contamination problems.
Shipman was charged with participating in a corrupt organization, theft, forgery, pollution of waters, tampering with public records and violating the state's Clean Streams Law, Solid Waste Management Act and the Fish and Boat codes, among other counts.
He's accused of overbilling his customers by more than $250,000.
Shipman denies all the criminal allegations against him, said his lawyer, Christopher Blackwell.
Blackwell said that the grand jury investigation began about a year ago and that Shipman has provided prosecutors with nearly all his business records from the years involved.
"On our side will be probably 20 drivers to testify, both former and current drivers, to testify Allan never told them to do anything like that," Blackwell said. "That was not a business task they were ever asked to perform. The drivers that are making the accusations seem to be disgruntled ex-drivers who seem to have an ax to grind with Mr. Shipman."
Blackwell said Shipman, 49, and his wife own the company. Shipman was released after posting $500,000 bail.