Though markedly improved from a wicked rash of oil spills more than two years ago, Greka Energy — which, according to recent county data, remains the hands-down number-one spiller among onshore oil operators in Santa Barbara County — was up to its old, albeit accidental, tricks once again this week. Shortly after 9 a.m. on Monday morning, County Fire crews responded to a spill at a Greka facility on Old Dominion Road in Santa Maria. While no major damage to the environment was sustained, according to fire officials some 250 barrels (roughly 10,500 gallons) of a contaminated water and crude oil mixture leaked from an overflowing containment tank.
The spill comes as the Central Coast Water Board announced a settlement agreement this week with Greka stemming from the energy company’s failure to comply with cleanup standards after prior mishaps. Rather than properly disposing of oil-soiled dirt as per cleanup code, the Water Board alleged the company had been hiding it on various leases. “Basically, they were just stockpiling it,” summed up Water Board spokesperson Roger Briggs. As per the agreement, Greka must pay $400,000 in fines while also using the estimated 70,000 cubic yards of contaminated dirt in asphalting service roads through its various leases in the county. According to Briggs, failure to do the latter will bump the fine up by some $800,000 more.
Still unresolved are the millions of dollars in fines Greka is facing from, among others, Santa Barbara County, California Fish and Game, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which stem from the company’s dubious runs of spills — totaling in excess of 200,000 gallons of crude — in 2007 and 2008. On the hook for various civil liabilities related to these spills and the literally 1,500 related and unrelated violations served by Santa Barbara County during that time, Greka is currently looking at just over $1.2 million in fines from the county alone and, according to County Petroleum Administrator Mike Zimmer, the company has yet to pay a dime. The matter is slated for Superior Court in late June for case management. As for the fines from Fish and Game, the EPA, and additional penalties from the Water Board, they have all been consolidated under the umbrella of the California Attorney General’s office with no imminent court date set.