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Assemblyman Pedro Nava announced Wednesday that two bills to tighten regulations around oil production have been signed by the governor. (Assemblyman Pedro Nava courtesy photo)

In response to the series of oil spills last year at Greka Oil and Gas facilities in Santa Maria, Assemblyman Pedro Nava on Wednesday morning announced the signing of two bills by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Authored by Nava, Assembly Bills 1960 and 2911 include policies that tighten regulations around oil production and give the state Department of Conservation the authority to shut down repeat offenders.

“These two measures will change the way that negligent operators in California are dealt with by state agencies,” Nava said. “They will both improve prevention of oil spills as well as increase enforcement and response of spills.”

Among the tools employed by AB 1960 is the development of specific maintenance standards with which the operator is required to comply. According to Nava, the “good oil field practices” that current regulations call for is difficult to enforce without specific standards. The new law also gives the department increased inspection and permitting authority over inland facility operators.

AB 2911 will require the California Department of Fish & Game to respond to inland spills in the same way it responds to marine spills, by authorizing it to raise more funding to pay for cleanup of inland spills.

Nava said that only about a third of inland spills are responded to, according to data from Fish & Game’s office of Spill Prevention and Response. Meanwhile, inland spills occur three times as often as marine spills.

Both bills provide for increased fines by raising the cap on civil penalties for violations. AB 1960 raises the maximum civil penalty for oil and gas conservation violations to $25,000 from $5,000. AB 2911 makes the maximum penalty for inland spills to $500,000 per violation, consistent with the fines levied for spills into marine waters.

The bills don’t mark the end of troubles with Greka, however. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday morning that it had taken control over some of the cleanup at the oil company’s Gato Ponds Lease.

“This is the third time the EPA has had to take over cleanup activities because Greka failed to meet reasonable standards,” said Daniel Meer, assistant director for the Emergency Response, Preparedness and Prevention Branch of the Superfund Division in the EPA’s Pacific Southwest region. “We have given Greka Oil and Gas every opportunity to effectively conduct this cleanup under federal oversight, but they have failed to meet our deadlines. Efficient cleanup is especially important as we approach the rainy season.”

The oil company could be facing several federal penalties, up to $32,500 per day, for each violation.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at