Energy firm pleads guilty in emissions scheme
Three defendants from JS await sentencing
WILLIAMSPORT — An energy firm that services the natural gas fields in central and western Pennsylvania has been fined $2 million for 31 violations of the Clean Air Act.
U.S. Middle District Judge Matthew W. Brann on Tuesday levied the fine after Rockwater Northeast admitted to the violations. He also imposed a special assessment of $12,500 for violating the Clean Air Act.
In a related matter, the government and Select Energy Services Inc., which purchased Rockwater in 2017 in a stock deal, has entered a three-year non-prosecution agreement.
Select, a Texas company with more than 2,000 employees that provides water solutions to the oil and gas industry, has paid $2.3 million to the government and agreed to three compliance audits.
“We take matters like this very seriously,” said Adam R. Law, the corporate officer who represented Select and Rockwater at the court proceeding.
The scheme that led to the Clean Air Act violations involved removing hardware that controlled emissions on 31 heavy-duty diesel trucks used to transport water and wastewater in the Marcellus Shale natural gas fields.
Six individuals who worked for or did business with the Rockwater operation based in Canonsburg, three of them from Jersey Shore, previously pleaded guilty to charges related to the tampering that occurred between Aug. 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014. They admitted:
–Replacing hardware control devices with exhaust tubing or “straight pipes” that do not limit emissions.
–Removing the hardware control devices from their compartments and then re-welding the entry point to create a false appearance they remained installed.
An estimated 26 tons of nitrous oxide plus particulate matter were released into the air from the trucks with tamper exhaust systems, assistant U.S. Attorney Philip J. Caraballo-Garrison said.
The economic benefit to Rockwater through such things as fuel savings, reduced maintenance costs and less downtime was $250,000, he said. All 31 trucks have been taken out of service, Law said.
The $250,000 was included in the $2 million fine that was part of a plea agreement. Rockwater was facing a maximum fine of $15.5 million.
The company also admitted being responsible for arranging with third parties to issue certificates stating the trucks with disabled onboard diagnostic systems met state inspection standards.
The six who have pleaded guilty to conspiring to impede the lawful functions of the Environmentl Protection Agency and Department of Transportation and to violate the Clean Air Act are:
— Brian Mellott of Cumberland, Md., who was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and one year of supervised release. He lost his job as an inventory and logistics analyst at Rockwater’s Linden facility in Lycoming County.
— Gavin Rexer of Jersey Shore, is awaiting sentencing. He was shop manager at Linden.
— Joseph A. Powell of Hickory, is awaiting sentencing. Powell was general manager of water management for Rockwater facilities in Linden, Hickory and Avella, the latter two in Washington County.
— John E. Joseph Jr. of Canonsburg is awaiting sentencing. Joseph was shop manager for Rockwater in Hickory,
— Dennis Paulhamus Jr. of Jersey Shore is awaiting sentencing. Paulhamus owned a trucking firm from Jersey Shore that did hauling for Rockwater. Paulhamus admitted selling $62,000 worth of defeat devices to Rockwater.
— Timothy Sweitzer of Jersey Shore is awaiting sentencing. Sweitzer owned a garage in Jersey Shore and acknowledged he passed for state inspection trucks without the required emission controls.
The matter was investigated by the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division and the DOT’s Office of Inspector General with the assistance of Pennsylvania State Police and other law enforcement agencies. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Phillip J. Caraballo and Sean Camoni and Special Assistant United States Attorney Patricia C. Miller prosecuted the case.