Authorities have announced a $2 million judgment against an oil company operator for endangering the water of residents of the Southern Tier and western New York.

According to state officials, James R. Lee and his corporate affiliates did not properly plug oil wells they operated. They contend that "posed a significant danger to drinking water supplies" in Steuben and Cattaraugus counties.

The penalty was announced Monday by state Attorney General Letitia James and Governor Kathy Hochul.

A state Supreme Court judge has ordered Lee's businesses to pay the $2 million assessment, which was described as "the largest financial penalty imposed in an oil and gas well case."

Lee has been ordered to bring his company's oil wells "into full compliance with state laws."

In addition to threatening water supplies, state officials said the failure to properly plug the oil wells could have resulted in the release of methane to nearby areas.

James said the lack of action by Lee's businesses "threatened drinking water for countless families" in the region.

New York environmental conservation commissioner Basil Seggos said the "judgment is a significant day of reckoning for Lee and his companies after years of blatant disregard" for the state's requirements at hundreds of oil well sites.

Lee has claimed he doesn't have the money to properly plug the old oil wells.

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Contact WNBF News reporter Bob Joseph: For breaking news and updates on developing stories, follow @BinghamtonNow on Twitter.

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