By: James W. Kraus
After having been convicted of criminal violations of the Clean Water Act, conspiracy and obstruction of justice following a federal jury trial earlier this year, John Tuma, the former owner and general manager of Arkla Disposal Services, Inc., was sentenced on Wednesday to 60 months in prison, three years of supervised release and a $100,000 fine. The sentence, handed down by Judge Tom Stagg in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, represents yet another example of the potential for significant consequences for environmental law violations.
Tuma was both owner and general manager of Arkla Disposal Services, Inc., a centralized wastewater treatment facility that received wastewater from industrial processes and oilfield exploration and production facilities. According to the contract for those services, Arkla was to treat the wastewater through a multi-step treatment process before discharging it to either the city of Shreveport publicly owned treatment works or into the Red River. Instead, Arkla discharged untreated wastewater directly into the Shreveport sewer system and the Red River. In addition to the unlawful discharges, Tuma was convicted of obstruction of justice for obstructing an inspection by the EPA.
Several regions around the country are witnessing the rapid spread of hydrofracking operations for the recovery of natural gas located deep beneath the earth’s surface. These operations generate significant amounts of wastewater. As hydrofracking continues on the upswing, the proper disposal of wastewater will become increasingly difficult. The issue is likely to remain a high priority for environmental regulators.
The potential for criminal liability for violating environmental laws in conducting hydrofracking and similar operations should not be taken lightly. The elements of proof for regulatory violations as compared with criminal violations of most environmental statutes, including the Clean Water Act, are technically quite similar. The factors that can cause a regulatory violation to develop into a criminal case include the level of intent of the violator, the violator’s prior compliance record, whether the violator voluntarily disclosed the violation, and the amount of environmental damage caused by the violation.