Pa. man, company accused of dumping gas wastewater
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.
The grand jury report said the company hauled sludge from sewage treatment plants, grease water from restaurants and fast-food chains that can't be sent to normal sewage systems and the wastewater produced by wells drilled into the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation.
The southwestern corner of Pennsylvania is among the most intensely drilled regions in the Marcellus gas drilling rush.
Investigators accused Shipman's company of illegally dumping waste at several locations, including a brine disposal well called Morris Run, which had come under scrutiny for lax security and possible environmental problems.
In 2009, the EPA fined the well's owner, Consol Energy, of Canonsburg, Pa., $158,000 for failing to keep gates locked or properly log the trucks coming and going from the site. Federal inspectors also raised concerns about the contents of the waste being dumped, saying they suspected sewage was illegally being added to the mix of fluids.
State regulators asked the EPA to shut down the well in 2009 after a nearby waterway, Dunkard Creek, turned salty, feeding an algae bloom that choked off life and killed fish in a 30-mile stretch. Its cause has not been conclusively identified.
Shipman also has been accused of dumping into a waterway that feeds Dunkard Creek.
Ken Dufalla, president of the Izaak Walton League of America chapter in Greene County, said deteriorating water quality in Dunkard Creek and other tributaries of the Monongahela River in that area have led many local anglers to conclude there must be illegal dumping going on.
"If there's a businessman dumping in his back yard, if it's true, it is utterly outrageous, because we all live here," said Dufalla, whose conservation group has grown from 19 members to 101 in the past year, largely driven by concerns over the Marcellus shale drilling.
"If he is proven guilty, then shame on him. If he is not guilty, then good for him. But it is disappointing that a local individual, if involved in this, would do such a thing, because he's our neighbor. And it hurts, to be honest with you."
The company's lawyer, Christopher M. Capozzi, said he was still reviewing the grand jury report that was issued with the charges but noted they did not make specific claims of environmental damage.
"I didn't see any allegations to that effect," Capozzi said. "So it seems to me, if that was a concern, the attorney general's office would have mentioned it."
Prosecutors said that Shipman routinely told his drivers to combine waste material into a "cocktail" to help conceal its ingredients and to falsely inflate the volume of hauled material for billing purposes.
The presentment said a municipal sewage authority, concerned that Allan's Waste Water Service was illegally dumping sludge in Greene County, alerted the state Department of Environmental Protection, and the agency contacted the attorney general's office.
Katy Gresh, a Pittsburgh-based DEP spokeswoman, said the agency was reviewing the permits issued to Allan's Waste Water Service to handle such material. She declined to comment on the potential environmental impact of the illegal dumping authorities say occurred.
Court records say the company is located in Holbrook, about 60 miles south of Pittsburgh; Shipman's addresses were listed as Holbrook and New Freeport.