The former operator of a saltwater well in southwest North Dakota linked to an illegal wastewater dumping case pleaded not guilty to multiple felony charges Monday in federal court in Bismarck.
A federal indictment charges Jason Halek, of Southlake, Texas, with conspiring with others in a number of illegal acts including injecting saltwater — an unwanted byproduct of oil production — into a disposal well near Dickinson without first having North Dakota inspectors witness a test of the well's integrity and continuing to inject the fluid after a failed pressure test. Halek entered not guilty pleas to all charges including violating the Safe Drinking Water Act, making false statements and obstructing grand jury proceedings.
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In September, Executive Drilling LLC President Nathan Garber pleaded guilty to multiple felony counts related to the same well, known as Halek 5-22, and agreed to cooperate with authorities in the investigation.
The 13-count indictment against Halek claims that between December 2011 and February 2012, the defendant and Garber conspired to hinder by "craft, trickery, deceit, and dishonest means the lawful and legitimate functions of the (Environmental Protection Agency), in enforcing federal laws relating to the requirements of the North Dakota underground injection control program."
Halek's defense attorney, Alexander Reichert, on Monday said his client denies any wrongdoing, but declined to comment further on the case because it's "too early" in the process. Reichert noted that nothing "ever spilled into the drinking water."
The criminal charges against Halek are connected to a state case against Halek Operating ND LLC, which was fined a record $1.5 million in 2013 for putting drinking water at risk by illegally dumping more than 800,000 gallons of salty, oilfield wastewater into a former oil well in Stark County and then attempting to cover up the crime. Halek admitted illegal dumping in court records but said ownership had been transferred to Executive Drilling when the most egregious infractions occurred and therefore wasn't at fault.
Saltwater is considered an environmental hazard and is many times saltier than sea water and can easily kill vegetation exposed to it. Companies commonly dispose of the oil production byproducts by injecting them into an approved underground facility.