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Thursday, December 13 , 2018, 10:39 am | Fair 62º


Supervisors Primed to Refine County Regulations on Oil Operations

In light of recent spills, the board considers its options for dealing with high-risk oil companies.

In light of the onshore and offshore oil spills that have occurred in the past year, Santa Barbara County has made efforts to become more aware and responsive to such incidents. But members of the Board of Supervisors’ new board majority still found themselves somewhat unsatisfied by their options Tuesday during a presentation on the state of oil and gas operations in the county, and the power they have to punish high-risk offenders.

“The reason we’re here — and it’s no surprise — is because we’ve had one company, maybe two, that brought great concern to the board and the public,” 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said.

In the past year, Greka Energy Co. made headlines for numerous spills at its various North County facilities, including an incident late last month that led to the shutdown of its Bell Canyon facility. In early December, a 34-barrel leak was discovered offshore at Platform A off Carpinteria, which is owned mainly by oil company DCOR.

“Somehow we have not been able to shut down those egregious companies that time and time again continue to spill,” Carbajal said.

What the county has done, among other things, is develop ordinances that tighten regulations, such as a multiple-response ordinance that would make offenders liable for multiple site visits, as well as a high-risk offender ordinance for companies that continuously or seriously spill. The county also is in the middle of testing a centralized violation history database to track violations, and will increase inspection and permitting fees for facilities that “require extraordinary time for inspection.”

Still, to the chagrin of some in the room, the recently introduced ordinances are forward-looking, so companies that could have been classified as high-risk offenders have started with an essentially clean slate.

Not everyone was convinced that the operators were the culprits they were being made out to be, however. Andy Caldwell, executive director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, taking a decidedly wider perspective, defended oil and gas operators in the county.

“Overall, this industry has had a tremendously good record, and we feel that what happens here is that the potential for catastrophe has been exceedingly exaggerated,” he said.

Commenters were not so easy to let Greka off the hook. Representatives from Get Oil Out and Santa Barbara County Action Network aired their concerns over the oil companies’ repeat offenses, and the county’s apparent lack of action.

“There does not seem to be stronger action that can be taken to shut down this repeat offender,” SB CAN director Deborah Brasket said.

Meanwhile, Greka president Andrew DeVegvar defended his company.

“There have been spills, but none of these have been of any significant harm to the environment,” he said.

Still, even 4th District Supervisor Joni Gray, a staunch supporter of the oil industry, echoed the sentiments of colleagues Carbajal, 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf and new 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr.

“By golly, this is frustrating,” said Gray, expressing her hope that the so-called ambiguities in the county’s petroleum and fire codes regarding offending oil operators could be cleared up.

“All it does is put us in the grandstanding position and divide us between who’s pro-oil, who’s against oil,” she said.

County staff is expected to take a closer look at the ordinances and further refine them, and return to the supervisors in about a month.

Write to sfer[email protected]

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