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Halliburton dodges charges again

| Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Halliburton Energy Services Inc. will not be charged criminally for transporting large quantities of hazardous waste for 12 years and storing it at an Indiana County site in violation of state environmental laws, the state Attorney General's Office said on Thursday.

The decision marks the second time the Attorney General's Office reviewed the matter and declined to pursue criminal charges. It followed an announcement on Tuesday that Halliburton will pay a $1.8 million civil fine to settle citations by the Department of Environmental Protection.

“Our review has indicated no reason to change that decision,” Joe Peters, a spokesman for Attorney General Kathleen Kane said in an email. He declined to explain the decision, saying his office won't discuss “investigative details.”

The DEP first referred the case in 2012 for criminal investigation, but after a five-month review, state prosecutors — working under Kane's predecessor, Linda Kelly — found “insufficient evidence existed to bring criminal charges,” Peters said.

DEP officials declined to comment on the request for an investigation and the decision by prosecutors.So, too, did Kelly and former DEP Secretary Michael Krancer, who were in charge when the case surfaced.

The civil penalty may be a record DEP fine for drilling-related work. From 1999 to 2011, Halliburton mischaracterized hydrochloric acid as residual waste instead of hazardous waste, according to the DEP. It kept no records of how it handled the material.

The company admitted to taking more than 255 shipments of the waste through its Homer City-area site without DEP permission in trucks that were not labeled as carrying hazardous waste or permitted to carry it. It disposed of some of the waste at a plant that didn't have a permit to handle the corrosive acid.

Neither the company nor the DEP has publicly explained how or why the mischaracterization happened. A spokeswoman at the company's Houston headquarters has declined to address those questions. She did not respond to a request on Thursday for an interview about the criminal investigation.

Environmentalists have called for criminal charges to find out whether the company intentionally deceived regulators and to serve as a deterrent. The fine comes out to $150,000 for each year of the violations for a company that had $29.4 billion in revenue in 2013.

“These enforcement actions are supposed to take into account the economic advantage of not complying,” said Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania director at Clean Water Action. “There are companies that comply and follow the rules, and they shouldn't be at a disadvantage to the companies that don't.”

Criminal referrals from the DEP are so rare that regional offices can go a full year without one, said Matthew L. Wolford, an Erie environmental lawyer who has worked for the DEP and the attorney general. Pennsylvania environmental law doesn't require prosecutors to show intent, but DEP usually refers cases for criminal review only in extraordinary cases, Wolford said.

“It's only when they see some fact pattern that suggests someone is lying, maybe falsified documents that suggest criminal conduct. Sometimes they'll look at extraordinary environmental harm,” he said. “It's usually because there's something about the case that's not right here.”

Timothy Puko is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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