The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the criminal conviction of a Kentucky man, who was a production superintendent for a company that owned and operated injection wells in the state, for conspiracy to defraud the United States. United States v. Lewis, No. 09-6548 (6th Cir. 8/15/11) (unpublished).
Trial evidence established that when several injection wells failed pretests for compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act, defendant instructed his employees to “fix” the wells by installing bypass devices that were designed so that when a well was tested by pumping either air or fluid into it, the air or fluid would go through a hose to a buried pipe, thereby reflecting the pipe’s pressure and not the well’s. EPA regulations require a number of tests to ensure that “brine,” a mixture of water, salt and chemicals, which is injected deep underground in an oil-producing area to force oil up a nearby production well, does not leak into drinking water. Injection well operators typically pretest the wells themselves to ensure that they meet EPA standards before having EPA inspectors observe a test.
The trial and appellate courts held that defendant defrauded the government by installing the bypass devices on non-compliant wells. The trial court sentenced the defendant to three years’ probation, including five months in a halfway house, and fined him $5,000. The appellate court determined that the government’s evidence was more than sufficient to support the conviction and sentence.