Greka Oil and Gas Co. celebrated the waning days of 2008 in the only way it knows how – by spilling more oil.

The Santa Barbara County Fire Dept. issued the energy company a stop-work order at their Bell lease facility on Palmer Road after back-to-back oil spills on Dec. 26, 27 and 28 released approximately 1,600 gallons of crude oil into the surrounding environment, including a nearby creek bed. According to Greka President Andrew DeVegvar, the initial spill on Dec. 26 was the result of a broken pipeline. However, he said the additional spills on the subsequent days were caused by operational error, namely personnel failing to close the correct valve.

The Fire Dept. issued the stop-work order after the third consecutive day of spills and Dept. Spokesman Eli Iskow released a statement declaring that “unsafe acts were found and unsafe conditions were created.” The statement also said that the stop-work order would be rescinded once the facility was deemed safe to operate, but officials could not be reached to determine whether such conditions had been reached.

DeVegvar held a press conference on Dec. 29 to decry the county’s decision to close down the entire facility, claiming it was an “overreaction.”

“We regret that this happened, but it wasn’t because of our infrastructure, it wasn’t because of our operator procedures, it wasn’t because of the way we do business,” DeVegvar said. “It was because a human being made a mistake and that can happen anywhere.”

Past events, however, suggest otherwise. In the decade since the company first came to Santa Barbara County, Greka Oil and Gas Co. has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of gallons of spilled oil and other toxic materials. In early 2008, the federal Environmental Protection Agency was called in to oversee clean-up efforts after Greka spilled approximately 80,000 gallons of crude oil. Two other major spills, totaling around 150,000 gallons of released oil and processed water, also occurred in late 2007 and early 2008.

This most recent stop-work order, however, could potentially have adverse affects on the company’s employees. Greka has already been forced to lay off several employees and give pay-cuts to others, but depending on how the stop-work order affects business, they may have to lay off up to 200 more employees.