Greka Sues County

Greka Energy followed through its longstanding threat and filed suit against Santa Barbara County and its petroleum administrator, Michael Zimmer, in U.S. District Court on January 21. The lawsuit alleges that a “repeat offenders” ordinance enacted on January 13 is unconstitutional. Greka, the largest onshore operator in Santa Barbara County, claims the ordinance unfairly lumps the same company’s non-offending facilities with its spill-prone counterparts. Should one facility fail and get shut down, the county, under the code, can also shut down non-offending facilities. The company also questioned the county’s definition of the term “high-risk operator,” which the ordinance defines as an oil company whose facilities have suffered an inordinately high number of spills in a given year. Greka has good reason to be worried about the ordinance’s affect on business, as its recent history for keeping oil inside pipes has been less than stellar. In December 2008 alone, more than 12,000 gallons of crude oil and produced water was spilled over a series of four incidents. Three of those spills were from the same location. Greka believes that the county will try to use these recent spills against it and name it a high-risk operator even though the ordinance wasn’t in effect during these spills. That “controversy,” the lawsuit claims, “would be unconstitutional and would violate Greka’s rights.” The lawsuit was on the Board of Supervisor’s closed-session agenda this week. Chief Assistant County Counsel Michael Ghizzoni said the county believes the amendments to the ordinance are “on solid legal ground.”

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