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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on June 21st, 2011, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 12, Issue 16 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 12, Issue 16

Greka Oil sued in federal court over Santa Barbara County spills


Federal and state agencies filed a civil lawsuit on June 17 accusing Greka Oil & Gas of violating environmental laws as a result of 21 oil spills in Santa Barbara County from 2005 to 2010.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleges Greka, which changed its name to HVI Cat Canyon Inc. in May, illegally spilled crude oil and other contaminants from ruptured storage tanks,
corroded pipelines, and injection ponds into county waterways.

According to the suit, Greka violated the federal Clean Water Act, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, and California environmental laws in spills at its Davis facility in Los Olivos in 2005 and 2008, and at its Bell facility in Santa Maria on at least 11 occasions. Some of the spills reached river tributaries of Zaca Creek, Palmer Road Creek, and Sisquoc Creek, the complaint alleges. More spills at the company’s Bradley Three-Island, Williams B, U-Cal, and Cat Canyon facilities in the Santa Maria area also broke state law, the suit claims.

In an e-mail to the media, Greka California spokesman Mike Stoker questioned the complaint’s assertion the spills affected “navigable waters” and noted the company has already agreed to pay the county $2 million for spills under its jurisdiction.

“This lawsuit is about one thing: federal agencies that are attempting to overreach their jurisdiction,” Stoker said. “We will never agree to pay the federal government, because the fact is these small spills did not occur in ‘U.S. navigable waterways’ as defined in the federal Clean Water Act. Frankly, Greka California would rather see the millions of dollars the federal government wants to obtain be spent in the local community supporting charities and nonprofits.”

Stoker added that Greka California is currently in full compliance with all county, state, and federal regulations, and said the company has spent more than $78 million in operational costs in response to regulators’ concerns.

U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle had no further comment on the litigation.

Under federal law, Greka could be subject to fines of up to $32,000 to $37,500 per day—depending on the time of the incident—or up to $1,100 per barrel for each spill. If the spills are found to be the result of gross negligence or willful misconduct, the company could be fined up to $4,300 per barrel under federal law.

Greka could also be fined $15,000 per day, or $20 for each gallon of oil spilled, for violations of the California Water Code, and up to $25,000 per day or $25 per gallon for each violation of the state’s Fish and Game Code. The total volume of oil spilled has yet to be determined by regulators.

In addition to the fines, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Coast Guard are seeking more than $2.4 million for cleanup costs for five 2008 spills, which Greka has yet to repay. The California Department of Fish and Game is also seeking recovery of costs and damages caused to natural resources by the spills.

The suit’s plaintiffs—which include the EPA, the state’s Department of Fish and Game, and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, Central Coast Region—are also asking for a court order forcing Greka to take action to prevent future spills and to ensure implementation of oil pollution prevention regulations.

Greka/HVI Cat Canyon Inc. is a subsidiary of Greka Integrated Inc., headquartered in Santa Maria.

Weekly Poll
What do you think about a farmworker resource center in Santa Barbara County?

It's a great way to create a network of collaboration and reach people in need.
It's been needed in the county for a long time and should have been made earlier.
We don't have the funding now, but we should come up with ideas in the meantime.
We don't need it. There are plenty of resources readily available.

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