Gas Drillers Plead Guilty to Felony Dumping Violations

Publication Type:

Web Article


ProPublica (2010)






Since Pennsylvania’s gas drilling boom ramped up in 2008, companies have been fined regularly for environmental accidents — $23,500 here for spilling 5,000 gallons of waste, $15,557 there for spilling 295 gallons of hydrochloric acid. The fines often amount to slaps on the wrist for companies that stand to make hefty profits from their wells.

But the penalties just got a lot more serious for an owner of Kansas-based Swamp Angel Energy and for the company’s site supervisor, who pleaded guilty last week to felony violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

As part of a plea agreement with the U.S. attorney for western Pennsylvania, part-owner Michael Evans, 66, of La Quinta, Calif., and John Morgan, 54, of Sheffield, Penn., admitted dumping 200,000 gallons of brine – salty wastewater that’s created in the drilling process – down an abandoned oil well. The maximum penalty for both Evans and Morgan is three years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both. Sentencing will be June 24. (See follow-up below). Attorneys for both men declined to comment.

Swamp Angel Energy was drilling in the Allegheny National Forest, in McKean County in northwestern Pennsylvania, and the brine was dumped just outside the border of the federal land. In mid-December, a federal judge overturned a ruling that had essentially banned drilling in the Allegheny Forest...

Follow-Up | U.S. EPA Compliance and Enforcement Criminal Case Activities (nz):

EPA's Criminal Enforcement program  investigates and helps to prosecute environmental violations which seriously threaten public health and the environment or involve conduct that may be willful, intentional, or deliberate.

Besides environmental violations, the cases may also have associated U.S. criminal code violations such as conspiracy, false statements, witness tampering, or interfering with a law enforcement investigation. Criminal enforcement sanctions -- which may include incarceration of individuals in addition to monetary fines against individuals, businesses, or corporations represent the enforcement program's strongest sanction and deterrent.

John Morgan and Michael Evans (PDF) (1 pg, 32K)

Acting United States Attorney Robert S. Cessar announced today, June 24, 2010, that a resident of Sheffield, Pennsylvania and a resident of La Quinta, California, have been sentenced in federal court in Erie as a result of their felony convictions for violating the Safe Drinking Water Act by unlawfully injecting brine produced from an oil drilling operation.

United States District Judge Sean J. McLaughlin imposed the sentences on John Morgan, age 54, of Sheffield, Pennsylvania, and Michael Evans, age 66, of La Quinta, California. Mr. Morgan received a sentence of three years probation, a $4,000 fine, eight months home detention and eighty hours community service. Mr. Evans received a sentence of three years probation, a $5,000 fine, ten months home detention and one hundred hours community service.