Co-Owner of Kenner-Based Laboratory Technology Sentenced for Role in Falsification of Produced Water Toxicity Testing
NEW ORLEANS—Martha Hebert, age 64, a resident of Kenner, Louisiana, was sentenced today to two years’ probation and fined $10,000 by U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon after having pleaded guilty in January to a one-count felony bill of information charging her with misprision of a felony, announced the U.S. Attorney Kenneth Allen Polite, Jr.
In addition to probation and her fine, Hebert voluntarily agreed in her plea with the government to not engage in produced water toxicity testing for a period of five years and closed Laboratory Technology in March of this year.
According to court documents, Hebert was the co-owner of Laboratory Technology (LT), located in Kenner, Louisiana. LT was a company that performed water toxicity tests for companies that were required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to adhere to certain limits involving the discharge of produced water. These companies were involved in the production of oil and gas in the Gulf. During the process of producing oil, a certain amount of contaminated water is produced. Untreated produced water is toxic, and the discharge of untreated produced water is prohibited.
The Clean Water Act requires companies to perform toxicity tests on produced water samples pursuant to a permit issued by the EPA. The permit imposes limitations on the amount of pollutants that could be discharged into waters of the United States. The permit requires monitoring of any discharges to determine whether they were in compliance with the pollutant discharge limitations set forth in the permit. The permit requires that discharge samples be sent to a lab such as LT for testing. The laboratory test results of the discharge samples were recorded on a report known as a Discharge Monitoring Report, commonly known as a DMR. The DMRs were sent to EPA. Companies relied upon the accuracy of LT’s test results when they submitted their DMRs to EPA.
Hebert acted as the office manager for LT and was responsible for sending clients the results of the water toxicity tests. The purpose of the toxicity test, in simple terms, was to determine if a company’s treated produced water was within its permit limits. Accurate reporting of the results of the toxicity tests is material to a company’s DMR. EPA had specific protocols in place for performing the toxicity tests. If one of the required steps in the protocol was not followed, the results were not valid and could not be used on the DMR.
Beginning in approximately July 2008 through June 15, 2012, LT’s laboratory supervisor, Leonard Johnson, did not follow the required protocol for testing the toxicity of the companies’ samples. In order for it to appear that the toxicity tests had been performed, Johnson instructed lab employees and Hebert to enter fake weight numbers in the information provided to the LT’s clients. This information was used by the clients to prepare the required DMRs.
Hebert knew that Johnson was signing all reports certifying the accuracy of the toxicity test results when, in fact, he had not followed the required protocol and knew that the information was false. Hebert did not make this known to a judge or other person in civil or military authority under the United States.
The case was investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency-CID and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.