Two oil well operators accused of violating federal water quality laws in Hart County were arrested after a federal indictment unsealed Thursday charged them with two additional criminal counts.
A federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment Wednesday against Charles Stinson of Horse Cave and Ralph Dowell of Edmonton, operators of Logsdon Valley Oil Co., with two counts of violation of an underground injection control program.
The indictment accuses the two men of willfully injecting fluids into a sinkhole that was not permitted.
The counts added in the superseding indictment outline the violations, which are said to have occurred at the Jaggers Grover oil lease between April 5 and June 15 and the Charles Stinson No. 6 well, a disguised well that was not permitted for injection, on July 18.
According to the indictment, Stinson and Dowell did not have permits in the state to inject fluids brought to the surface in connection with oil production into sinkholes, violating the Safe Drinking Water Act, which establishes an underground injection control program designed to protect sources of drinking water.
The act forbids oil well owners or operators from conducting injection activity that allows the movement of fluid containing any contaminants into underground drinking water sources.
Injection wells used to dispose of brine water – which is brought to the surface as a byproduct of oil production – require permits for their safe operation.
In unsafe conditions, brine water can pollute underground aquifers and contaminate wells and water sources for farmers and home owners, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The two counts returned last week against Stinson and Dowell were added to five prior criminal counts of violation of an underground injection control program and one count of conspiracy to commit violations of an underground injection control program.
Stinson and Dowell are said by federal prosecutors to have conspired with one another and with others who are not named in federal court records to have violated the Safe Drinking Water Act between March 13, 2008, and July 18 by configuring piping to convey brine water from a tank battery to a sinkhole.
The indictment names 10 separate overt acts to support the conspiracy charge, including Stinson ordering others not named in the indictment to configure tank batteries so that brine water would be conveyed into sinkholes.
Dowell is accused of configuring tank batteries on two oil leases to inject the byproduct into sinkholes, and both men are accused of improperly injecting the brine water into sinkholes at three oil leases.
The injections are said in the indictment to have occurred on March 13, 2008, Dec. 10, 2009, and May 24, 2010, at two leases and on June 29, 2010.
Both men have entered not guilty pleas on all counts, and the case against them is scheduled to go to trial Oct. 15 in U.S. District Court in Bowling Green.
If convicted, Stinson and Dowell could face up to 26 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.