In the wake of a recent oil spill that released 84,000 gallons of crude oil into a northern creek, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors heard arguments from various parties last night to review the situation.
The board conducted a hearing with Greka Energy Corp. representatives yesterday and also heard reports from citizens and the state Environmental Protection Agency. Greka’s recent oil spill occurred on Jan. 4 at its Davis Tank Battery facility located at 5017 Zaca Station Rd. Greka’s attorney, Robert O’Brien, said the company was not at fault for the spill, and he alleged that someone had sabotaged the facility.
“It is clear that this would not have happened, were it not for intentional human conduct,” O’Brien said. “What we found in our investigation [was] compelling evidence of sabotage.”
O’Brien said Greka hired Los Angeles detective Tom Parker to investigate both the recent spill and the Dec. 7 spill that released 58,674 gallons of oil at the Palmer Road, Bell Lease facility. According to O’Brien, cut pipes, pulled wires, opened valves and altered alarms lead Greka to believe a possible eco-terrorist is at large.
“[That these problems] occurred in less than 30 days [is] no coincidence,” O’Brien said. “[For example, a set of wires were pulled from the bundle and [were] cut or crimped with a crimping device.”
O’Brien also addressed the three major oil spills that occurred over the last two years, as well as the various minor spills. He said the company has met industry standards both in spill accountability and accident prevention.
“Many operators were not in existence during the five years that Greka has existed, and the oil spills may have occurred,” O’Brien said. “We’re not the worst operator in this county. … Greka reports the number of barrels that are spilled, meticulously. … We don’t know what other operators spill.”
However, some board members said Greka had not made sufficient and necessary improvements to its infrastructure. O’Brien said he agrees Greka needed to make improvements, and he asked for the board’s assistance.
Representatives from the EPA also spoke at the hearing, prior to O’Brien’s 25-minute stand. The EPA alleged that Greka had neglected its suggestions and orders in numerous cases, and that the company had responded slowly to cleanup efforts after the Dec. 7 spill.
The Board of Supervisors later presented a “three-pronged approach” to the issue of oil company spills, adding that it needed to enforce existing ordinances and work more closely with the petroleum unit, fire department and professional contractors.
The board also heard from several citizens who demanded the board take control of the issue and not rely on Greka to make changes.
Former Planning Commissioner Doreen Farr said the board should apply the same offshore regulations to onshore companies in order to better regulate oil businesses.
“The county [has] been put in harm’s way time and time again,” Farr said. “You have the tools to address the situation. You don’t need to go through the legal loops or high-risk ordinances. You need to apply ordinances we have for offshore oil to onshore oil, and make sure costs for cleanups are charged back to oil operators. … Shut down any companies not completely abiding by the terms of their permits. Protecting public health should be on top of your priorities.”