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Wednesday, December 12 , 2018, 11:18 am | Partly Cloudy 62º


When Is Enough Enough? Holding Greka Accountable

It's time the Board of Supervisors takes a stand on deplorable conditions and practices at Greka's oil facilities. SB CAN is calling for action.

Last week there was yet another oil spill at a Greka Energy Corp. facility. This time an estimated 84,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into a Los Olivos creek bed next to the Firestone Winery. In December, nearly 59,000 gallons were spilled into creek beds just south of Santa Maria. That came on the heels of the 7,000-gallon spills that occurred in three separate incidents in November.

Taken as a whole, these numbers far exceed the 57,000 gallons spilled into the San Francisco Bay when a marine freighter collided with the Bay Bridge last year, drawing national headlines and community outrage.

Greka’s spills are only the most recent of hundreds of violations the oil company has committed over the past eight years, incurring more than $2.5 million in fines and penalties. Environmental authorities — including representatives from the Department of Fish and Game, Regional Water Quality Agency, county Air Pollution Control District and county Fire Department — all agree the number of Greka violations far exceeds that of any other oil operator in the area. The frequency of the violations, averaging one every 10 days, has been particularly challenging to the agencies’ limited staff and resources.

Most of the violations, spills and accidents were caused by the dilapidated condition of Greka’s equipment and infrastructure. One inspector reported finding that a leaky holding tank had been “repaired” by plugging the corroded hole with a tree branch!

While most of the incidents have occurred in northern Santa Barbara County, the threat of additional accidents is felt countywide. At a recent hearing called by Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, Mussel Shoals property owners voiced concerns about the numerous violations at Greka’s offshore oil facility there and the recent closure of its pier, which state officials found to be in “significant disrepair.”

Bad as they are, these accidents and violations aren’t the extent of Greka’s problems. Two of its companies, Santa Maria Refining Co. and Greka Integrated Inc., are involved in a civil suit, now on appeal, for failing to plug up and shut down 47 tapped-out oil wells. Several of these unplugged wells, which present “ongoing potential for contamination to the environment,” are located in the North County near Casmalia and Cat Canyon.

This lengthy string of accidents, violations, fines and lawsuits provides a strong indication of neglect, incompetence and irresponsible business practice. Such practices jeopardize not only the environment and the health of the community, but also the safety and livelihood of Greka’s employees.

Nava and Supervisors Salud Carbajal and Janet Wolf are to be commended for drawing attention to a problem that should have been addressed years ago. Had measures been taken then to force compliance with county and federal policies, and to demand the repair and replacement of deteriorating infrastructure, our community could have been spared repeated toxic gas leaks and oil spills, and the county saved from countless hours of needless cleanups. Taxpayers could have been saved millions of dollars in wasted spending, and Greka employees and their families spared the potential loss of incomes.

Greka must be held accountable for its history of neglect and irresponsibility, its failure to adequately repair or replace deteriorating infrastructure, and its disdain for county policies and regulations created to protect workers, the environment and human health. It is not enough to pay a monetary fine for this kind of irresponsibility. Habitual violators run the risk of being shut down permanently. Only businesses that take seriously their social responsibility, respect the rule of law and promote the welfare of the community should be allowed to operate in Santa Barbara County.

Join Santa Barbara County Action Network at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors hearing on the Greka oil spills where we will be urging our supervisors to take strong action to stop the spills and repeated violations.

Deborah Brasket is executive director of the Santa Barbara County Action Network  (SB CAN). She can be reached at 805.722.5094 or at [email protected] This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it . This commentary originally appeared in the Santa Maria Times.

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