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Panel Discusses Response to Greka Oil Spill

Led by Assemblyman Pedro Nava, a panel of several agencies discussed actions to take in the wake of North County oil company Greka's recent oil spill.

In an effort to decide what legislation, if any, should come out in response to the Greka oil spill in Santa Maria, Assemblymember Pedro Nava held a public briefing in Santa Barbara to address the matter.

“At what point do we collectively come to the conclusion that enough is enough?” said Nava, who has been one of the more outspoken critics of the oil company.

 

The oil spill in question happened on Dec. 7 at the oil company’s Santa Maria facility, when a holding tank for oil and water overflowed and a pump intended to prevent the spill failed. About 70,000 gallons of oil and water leaked out and found its way into a creek before the spill was contained. Shortly thereafter, Greka’s natural gas facilities failed, leading to another leak and a stop-work order at that facility.

Representatives from various agencies responsible for responding to oil spills were present, including people from the Environmental Protection Agency, the California Department of Fish & Game, and the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District, Fire Department and Administrator’s Office.

According to the representatives for various agencies responsible for regulating oil spills, however, these were not the only incidents. In fact, they said, Greka has been responsible for a multitude of incidents and failed inspections out of all the approximately 20 oil and gas operations in the county, including safety violations, workplace hazards, contamination of drinking water, in addition to the spills.

Aside from impacts to the environment and the health of people in and around the facilities, the major impact, said the panel, was the toll on their agencies’ time, resources and staff, much of which was difficult, they said, to recover.

“From a compliance standpoint, Greka is the most difficult company to regulate,” said Terry Dressler, director of the APCD. The company has had 287 air quality violations since 1999, a record that amounts to one violation every 10 days.

In the company’s defense, Greka attorney Bob Sanger said that Greka inherited faulty facilities to begin with, when they started up in Santa Barbara County in 1999.

“They took over existing infrastructure,” Sanger said. Furthermore, he said, some incidents were due to malfunctions with facilities Greka didn’t even know they had.

The panel discussed possible measures to take against Greka, including ways to increase recovery of money spent on enforcing regulations and sharing information between agencies. 

“We need to exert a collective weight instead of an individual agency weight against (Greka’s) chronic behavioral pattern,” said Supervising Engineering Geologist John Robertson from the Central Coast Regional Water Qualtiy Control Board.

The panel’s talk of potentially shutting the facility down was enough to make one of the many Greka employees present speak up.

“(Greka) is one of the largest employers in the Santa Maria Valley," said Scott Proskow. "There’s a huge human element tht would be affected ... we’ve taken huge steps forward. We’re doing the best we can."

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