Farmer: Harch still operating

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – A Harch Environmental Services official said the company has not been required to cease doing business in Ohio altogether, despite allegations of illegal brine dumping at a farm near St. Clairsville.

Information provided by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources indicates the company, which disposes of waste from oil and natural gas drilling, had shut down operations in the Buckeye State entirely as a result of that agency’s investigation. But Harch Superintendent of Operations Matthew Farmer said the company’s services are twofold – it also hauls fresh water and cleans up spills at rigs and well sites.

That end of the company is still up and running, Farmer said, and he doesn’t believe the company is violating any ODNR orders by continuing those activities. The firm’s recycling facility, located along Ohio 9, will remain closed until the ODNR’s investigation is complete, he said. The company’s other location is at 69500 Bannock Road.

“I shut (the recycling facility) down immediately, before they even asked us to. … Fresh water is pretty much the only thing we’re hauling right now,” Farmer said.

The written order issued June 3 only requires Harch to show cause why its permit to haul brine should not be revoked. ODNR Public Information Officer Mark Bruce said the directive to cease operations was not issued in written form, but verbally — when an ODNR inspector first visited the farm property May 16 and found evidence of illegal activity.

“We ordered them to cease operation of their storage facility. … Their certificate has not been revoked, but they are not operating,” Bruce said.

According to the ODNR, a field inspector responding to an anonymous tip discovered what appeared to be oil-based mud on the ground at Kirke Porterfield’s farm along Vineyard Road, as well as evidence trucks had backed up to a hillside and discharged fluid into a private pond on the property.

Porterfield said he had an agreement for Harch to pay him $200 per load to dump dirt on the 640-acre farm, but he was not aware of any potential brine dumping until the state began investigating. He doesn’t believe his property has been damaged as a result and said Harch has been “a great company to work with.”

“I’m not happy it happened, by any means. But I’m glad Harch took the bull by the horns and started cleaning it up,” Porterfield said.

Despite the farm’s proximity to one of St. Clairsville’s city reservoirs, state officials don’t believe Harch’s alleged activities pose a threat to the city’s water supply.

“From our investigation so far, it appears the contamination was confined to that private pond,” Bruce said.

St. Clairsville Mayor Robert Vincenzo said he was out of town when information about ODNR’s investigation surfaced. The city’s water department superintendent and director of public services could not be reached Friday for comment.

Harch has requested a hearing to demonstrate why its brine hauling certificate should not be revoked. It’s unclear when that hearing will take place.

Farmer previously said the company is cooperating with ODNR and the state Environmental Protection Agency in their investigation.