Noting that the site of a Greka Oil and Gas Inc. spill has remained contaminated for more than two months, the Environmental Protection Agency recently announced that it would take over the cleaning efforts in the area.
The original leak was discovered at Greka’s Bell Lease facility at 6801 Palmer Rd. on Jan. 29. An oil and water mixture had seeped out of a corroded pipe through the soil and out into a tributary of Sisquoc Creek. The creek empties into the Santa Maria River and eventually feeds into the Pacific Ocean.
According to the EPA, Greka was unable to clean up the spill due to a lack of resources and instead hired a contractor to manage the cleaning. Last month, Greka fired that contractor for financial reasons and informed the EPA that it would not comply with its order to file a strategy for oil removal from the tributary.
In light of this response, the EPA has mobilized a cleanup crew and assumed oversight of the project. In addition, Greka may face up to $32,500 per day for each alleged violation of the Clean Water Act. According to EPA On-Scene Coordinator Robert Wise, Greka’s spills have posed a serious threat to local and national waters.
“Basically, we’ve had numerous oil spills,” Wise said. “We have damage to the waters of the U.S. and the Clean Water Act [demands it be clean]. … Our goal is to get this oil out of here.”
EPA spokeswoman Mary Simms said the recent rain was also a factor in the EPA’s decision to take control of the cleanup. Simms said the rain could trigger a re-release and carry contaminants even further down the creek.
“Anticipating the rain is one of the reasons the EPA stepped in to help with the cleanup,” Simms said. “When there’s rain that’s introduced, the oil that has settled will be re-released into the environment. The oil may have been stopped, but basically when it rains, [the oil] can potentially go even further.”
Wise said cleaning up the Bell Lease leak would take a month and that the EPA will require additional help.
Santa Barbara County Fire Dept. Captain Eli Iskow said his department is collaborating with the EPA to oversee cleanup of the affected environment and observation of Greka facilities. Given the frequency of Greka spills this year, Iskow said his department and the EPA were forced to work together to clean other sites as well.
However, Iskow also said that the most recent leaks have resulted in a comparatively small amount of oil spillage. According to Iskow, Greka has made an effort to update its facilities and correct its procedures. Additionally, department production restrictions have aided in minimizing accident damage.
“I would say in the last several months they have had no extremely large spills,” Iskow said. “We’ve had spills of several hundred gallons, but not several thousand. Part of the reason for that is that we’ve shut down most of their production capability, but, once they start production, it’s hard to tell what will happen.”