Despite what Trump’s EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and our region’s EPA director and former Greka spokesperson, Mike Stoker, say, it is important to keep in mind that the Casmalia toxic waste site will not and cannot be cleaned up in five years. The groundwater will be contaminated for 100 to 1,000-plus years.
Their own Environmental Protection Agendy (EPA) documents describing the cleanup say, “Many contaminants have been trapped within very fine-grained claystone and will continue to be slowly released to groundwater for hundreds to thousands of years. Cleanup alternatives focus on containing contamination rather than completely removing it.” Even the more aggressive cleanup options that the EPA rejected because of the higher cost would leave the groundwater polluted for at least a century.
It is also important to keep in mind the taxpayer funding involved in the $60 million cleanup effort and how easy it is for companies to walk away after contaminating the groundwater. Casmalia’s prior owners, Hunter Resources and Ken Hunter Jr., paid just $7 million after extensive legal battles and went on to continue their oil operations in the county. According to a history of California oil, “PetroRock currently operates some of the legacy assets acquired by Ken, Sr., and Jr., and has established substantial new production since 2011 in the Cat Canyon Oilfield near Santa Maria, California.”
PetroRock is one of three oil companies with applications currently pending to collectively drill over 750 high-intensity steam injection wells through the Santa Maria groundwater aquifer. Unlike Casmalia, the Santa Maria groundwater aquifer is the primary source of agricultural and drinking water for most of North County.
At a time when EPA oversight of the clean drinking water act is extraordinarily weak and oil production in the U.S. is already at an all time high, it would be a poor choice to risk sacrificing our irreplaceable groundwater resources by approving oil expansion projects.
We could end up with a superfund site much worse than Casmalia and, in hindsight, wonder why we didn’t learn from our past.