Adding to a list of incidents that includes over 200 oil spills and at least 500,000 gallons of crude oil leaked, Greka Energy Corporation added two more infractions to the tally this week.
On Monday afternoon, inspectors from the County Petroleum Division in Santa Barbara noticed a leak at the Greka Bell Lease on Palmer Road while investigating a series of unrelated, minor spills at the site. According to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, the newly discovered spill was caused by a ruptured, three-inch underground pipeline which “leaked enough water and oil to have compromised the integrity of the dirt containment berm and possibly the entire hillside.”
Due to safety concerns, an Environmental Protection Agency contract crew that was cleaning up oil from a separate, earlier spill was evacuated and a stop work order was issued for the production lines of the facility.
After Greka employees turned off the pump feeding the leak, repaired the pipeline and rebuilt the dirt berm above it, the county petroleum inspector lifted the stop work order, Fire Department reports said.
The inspector later noted an unrelated gas vapor leak at the site. In response to this infraction, an Air Pollution Control District inspector conducted an investigation and issued another notice of violation.
Some community officials allege that the incidents prove that Greka has failed to adequately manage its facilities, which were home to hundreds of prior spills.
However, in a press release, Greka President Andrew deVegvar stated that the incident was grossly misrepresented by the Fire Department.
“There was no danger regarding the hillside, which is Greka property,” deVegvar said. “There was no evacuation. There was no stop work order – instead there was a notice to comply. This was simply a very minor incident.”
DeVegvar said the county was unfairly targeting the company and catering to media sensationalism. The local media has closely followed Greka’s affairs since the company was responsible for a 75,000 gallon oil spill at the Bell site on December 7 and a 200,000 gallon spill at its lease near Zaca Station Road on January 5.
“It’s time for the county fire department to start acting in good faith and stop playing to the media with these ridiculous and defamatory statements,” de Vegvar said.
Monday’s incident comes just two weeks after a stop work order for the Bell facility was rescinded. The order was issued in response to the Dec. 7 spill.
In a letter written to deVegvar on April 7, Fire Marshall Christian J. Hahn wrote that the county had issued the facility a 90-day work permit that was contingent upon a series of maintenance requirements and inspections, all but one of which Greka was required to fulfill by April 10.
Greka Public Relations spokesperson Robert Emmers declined to speak about whether or not those requirements – which include an upgraded fire plan, soil removal and tank inspections, among other projects – were met. He said that those details were strictly between the county and company executives.
In light of recent orders issued by the county to elected officials and civic employees, Fire Department spokesman Captain Eli Iskow said that he was unable to comment on any past incidents involving the energy company.
Santa Barbara County Communications Director William Boyer, the sole county representative designated to comment on County-Greka relations, could neither confirm nor deny whether Greka had met its maintenance requirements at the Bell facility as of press time.