Greka Energy Corporation has threatened the Santa Barbara County Fire Dept. with legal action in response to what the energy corporation calls the department’s “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable” approach to dealing with the company’s recent oil spills.
In a letter sent to Fire Chief John M. Scherrei, Greka’s counsel alleges that the fire department levied excessive and unfair sanctions against the company, leaving the department liable for damages. The letter informs Scherrei that if the department does not meet Greka’s demands by 5 p.m. today, it will file suit.
The letter, which was sent by Greka Senior Vice President and General Counsel Susan M. Whalen, maintained that the corporation had made every effort to comply with the fire department but had reached its limits.
“While we have continued to work in good faith with the county, it has become clear that, unless the Santa Barbara County Fire Dept. changes its arbitrary, unreasonable and subjective approach to dealing with Greka, Greka will have no other alternative but to pursue its legal rights pertaining to the damages it has sustained,” Whalen said.
Specifically, the letter takes issue with a “stop work order” placed on Greka’s Bell Lease facility, following an oil spill of around 80,000 gallons. According to Whalen, the fire department’s request that Greka have a third party inspect the facility before continuing operations was unfair and impractical. The letter asserts that such a restriction – labeled Condition #21 – has never been placed on a county oil operator before.
In the letter, Greka requested that the fire department remove Condition #21 and immediately schedule an inspection, release a security line from the stop work order and allow Greka to resume operations of a pipeline and remove its Chamberlin Associates lease from the scope of the stop work order. An alternate option calls for a county administrator to designate a representative to negotiate a resolution between the fire department and Greka. Otherwise, Greka stated that it may seek more than $100 million in damages.
The multination corporation at the center of the issue has operated in Santa Barbara County for nine years, in which time it has incurred roughly $2.5 million in fines, according to 35th District Assemblyman Pedro Nava. In the past two months, Greka facilities have leaked at least 140,000 gallons of crude oil and contaminated water into the environment, although the corporation claims that eco-terrorists and sabotage are to blame for the spills.
Santa Barbara County Fire Dept. Captain and spokesman Eli Iskow said that few of his colleagues had had time to read the letter, but he alleged that the document was an attempt to distract the public from Greka’s safety record and amounted to little more than spin.
“I think what they’re trying to do, as they have been … is take the focus off of themselves,” Iskow said.
Iskow said the threat of lawsuit would not change the department’s efforts to protect the environment and the public from hazards.
“Its not going to change our status of enforcement, fire code and protecting the public health and safety and that of the environment,” Iskow said.