The semi-vacant Rust Belt city of Youngstown, Ohio, thought that fracking might be the solution to its epidemic of empty buildings. The revenue from drillers could allow the city to continue its policy of razing abandoned buildings, constricting the city and allowing it to better serve residents. But the explosion of fracking in the Utica shale formation on which the city sits may yield another revenue stream: fines for pollution.

Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company

chrismurfYoungstown Sheet and Tube Company.

On Jan. 31, Ohio Department of Natural Resources inspectors caught employees of a fracking company in the act of dumping oil and brine into a city sewer. From the Tribune-Chronicle:

“On Jan. 31, 2013, division inspectors, acting on one of the anonymous tips, visited 2761 Salt Springs Road and observed two individuals disposing of substances from a hose connected to a frac tank into a storm sewer,” Ohio Department of Natural Resources officials spelled out in an order that they delivered Wednesday to D&L Energy. …

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The men observed by ODNR inspectors discharging the brine [Ed. – fracking fluid waste] drove away from the site in a truck labeled “Mohawk” before inspectors began taking samples of the liquids they had dumped, reports say.

That sewer flows into the nearby Mahoning River. You can read the official incident report here.

Yesterday, the state revoked the permits of the companies involved in the dumping — even as they sought additional injection well permits. From the Akron Beacon-Journal:

Under the ODNR’s orders, D&L Energy must cease all injection well operations in the state of Ohio.

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Permits for its six injection wells have been revoked by the state of Ohio. That includes operating injection wells in Trumbull and Ashtabula counties and three under construction: two in Mahoning County and one in Trumbull County. The sixth well in Youngstown exists only on paper.

The state’s order does not affect the 9,200-foot-deep Youngstown injection well that is widely blamed for the earthquakes. That well may be switched to a new corporate owner, officials said.

Oh, right. The earthquakes. D&L was also blamed for a series of 2011 earthquakes after it drilled into “basement rock,” bedrock under the city of Youngstown. Quality operation.

Perhaps the greatest irony is that even if D&L had properly disposed of its waste fluid in its injection wells, the odds that it would eventually seep out are high. A report from ProPublica last year suggested that such wells are often filled at pressures in excess of what’s intended. By dumping waste fluid directly into the sewer, D&L may have just been skipping a few steps.

There’s a lot of money in fracking. And where there’s a lot of money, there are a lot of people trying to cash in. Youngstown figured it might as well try and do so, but also learned a lesson about what kind of company you keep when you go after dollar signs.