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Associated Press, Published May 29 2013

ND trucker punished for illegal salt water dumping

BISMARCK — A Dickinson truck driver has been sentenced for illegally dumping salt water in the western North Dakota oil patch, a case that Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem says is a first for the state.

Violations of state Industrial Commission rules typically are dealt with administratively. Benjamin LeBaron's case was the first resulting in a criminal conviction.

"We want to send a message to those who violate North Dakota's laws — anyone intentionally polluting our environment will face serious consequences," Stenehjem said in a statement released Tuesday night.

Oasis Petroleum reported last August that surveillance equipment had recorded a truck driver dumping salt water on the ground at one of the company's disposal sites in Williams County. Salt water, a waste product of oil production, is commonly disposed of by pumping it underground.

LeBaron, who was a contract driver for Power Fuels at the time, was charged after an investigation by the Industrial Commission's Oil and Gas Division and local law enforcement.

Authorities prosecuted LeBaron because of the seriousness of the offense, said state Department of Mineral Resources spokeswoman Alison Ritter.

"It was believed that he willfully violated these rules," she told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The salt water was cleaned up and caused no environmental damage, Ritter said.

LeBaron pleaded guilty to a felony charge and was given Tuesday a one-year suspended jail sentence and ordered to pay $1,025 in fines and fees and complete 50 hours of community service. He will be on supervised probation for a year.

Defense attorney Jeff Nehring said he believes the sentence was fair, though he also said he thinks a misdemeanor charge would have been more appropriate.

"I don't think he was unfairly made an example of," Nehring told the AP. "When you have a case of first impression like this, I do think it's newsworthy, because other people might now understand how important it is to report these spills."

Nehring said he did not know why LeBaron dumped some of the salt water, though he said it's quicker than pumping the wastewater into a disposal well. He said LeBaron claimed that he reported the incident to Power Fuels but the company denied that.

"We never had a trial to have both sides present evidence," he said.

Both companies helped in the investigation, said state Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, who sits on the Industrial Commission.

"Illegal dumping will not be tolerated by the state of North Dakota," Gov. Jack Dalrymple said in a statement. "With the recent approval of additional enforcement staff for the Department of Mineral Resources as well as the Department of Health, we will continue to be vigilant in protecting our environment from people who choose to break the law."

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Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.