A Kentucky man pleaded guilty today to a negligent violation of the Clean Water Act. The charge stems from a 2018 discharge of oil and brine water into a small creek near an oil tank battery and eventually into other downstream creeks.
According to court documents, Joshua M. Franklin, 33, of Columbia, was an operator at an oil lease tank battery in Columbia. His duties included ensuring that brine water, a waste product from oil production, was separated from the oil before it was sold to customers. On Aug. 22, 2018, the oil/water separator at the tank battery used to remove brine water from a tank holding oil ready for sale was not functioning. To separate the brine water from the oil tank, Franklin instead attached a conduit to the oil tank’s discharge valve, opened the valve and left the site. As a result, approximately 100 barrels (4,000 gallons) of oil were discharged into a nearby tributary, which led to other creeks. The oil could be seen in a downstream creek, Brush Creek, over a mile away from the tank battery.
“This prosecution sends a clear and deterrent message to those who would cut corners and cause significant pollution of our nation’s waters,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
“The Clean Water Act was designed to protect our nation’s waters from pollution that can damage the environment and threaten human health,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This case shows that those who violate the law can expect to be held accountable by EPA and our law enforcement partners.”
The Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection (KDEP) conducted the initial cleanup immediately after the oil spill. The EPA then assumed cleanup tasks for the spill, which took until April of 2019.
Franklin entered a plea agreement where he agrees to pay a restitution of $10,000 to the EPA and KDEP, based on a limited ability to pay. He is scheduled to be sentenced on March 1, 2023, and faces a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine of $100,000. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The EPA Criminal Investigation Division investigated the case.
Senior Trial Attorneys Ryan Connors and Daniel Dooher of the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section prosecuted the case.