An oil company that state and federal officials have called California's number one inland oil polluter has failed to meet multiple deadlines to clean up leaks from settling ponds on one of its leases, so the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week took over partial cleanup operations to ensure they are completed before the rainy season.
The EPA had ordered Greka Oil and Gas to clean up leaks on its Gato Ponds lease near Cat Canyon Creek in Santa Maria. Several drainage pathways lead from the ponds to the riparian habitat next to the creek and then into the creek itself. The creek flows to the Santa Maria River, where threatened species, such as the snowy plover, are found.
But the company failed to do the required cleanup by the deadline date and failed to provide required documents, including weekly reports on the activities at Gato Ponds. While EPA acknowledges that the ponds are now emptied, EPA still has not received these documents.
In a letter to the company dated September 29, the EPA's Robert Wise, wrote, "Greka's contractor, First Response, has, after three attempts, failed to submit adequate Work Plans and Confirmation Sampling Plan, and has been judged by EPA, in consultation with its state and local agency partners, to be unqualified to perform the work required at the site in an effective and timely manner."
Greka also was supposed to provide proof of medical surveillance by August 11, 2008, wrote Wise. Without the required documentation, Greka's contractors are prohibited from conducting work at the site, but still the EPA has not received the documents.
The EPA now is taking over the most critical cleanup activities and the federal government will seek reimbursement of those costs from Greka. In addition, Greka may face fines and penalties as high as $32,500 per day for each violation.
"Efficient clean up is especially important as we approach the rainy season, said Daniel Meer, assistant director for the Emergency Response, Preparedness and Prevention Branch of the Superfund Division in the EPA's Pacific Southwest region. Oil leaking from the cracked concrete pools "posed an extreme hazard for a spill," said Meer.
This is the third time the EPA has had to take over clean up activities at a Greka lease because the company "failed to meet reasonable standards," Meer said.
The EPA is not the only agency with a complaint against Greka.
In July, the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board filed an $8.5 million complaint against Greka for what the agency views as the oil company's failure to comply with a clean up and abatement order for the company's Northern Santa Barbara County leases, including the Casmalia, Cat Canyon, Santa Maria Valley and Zaca oil fields.
Greka Energy began buying up oil leases in Santa Barbara County in 1999. Greka oil fields were previously owned by a company called Saba, which also had a history of spills and negligence. Saba also was run by Greka's chief executive and chairman Randeep Grewall.
Since 1999, Greka, a subsidiary of the China based corporation Green Dragon Energy, has earned the reputation of Santa Barbara County's most frequent hazardous material and air pollution violator, says California Assemblymember Pedro Nava, chair of the Joint Committee on Emergency Services and Homeland Security.
Since 1999, Greka has spilled well over a half a million gallons of oil and other hazardous materials, spilled kerosene distillates, polluted waterways with polychlorinated biphenyls, leaked hydrogen sulfide, contaminated ground water, and leaked large clouds of combustible gas.
These offenses have resulted in more than 740 citations from the Santa Barbara Air Pollution Control District, Santa Barbara County Fire, the Santa Barbara District Attorney, U.S. EPA, the California Department of Fish and Game, and CalOSHA.
The county hazmat team has responded to incidents at Greka facilities more than 400 times in the last nine years - on average this means that Greka has a hazardous material incident nearly once a week, NAVA says.
All of these violations have resulted in fines totaling more than $2,600,000. "Unfortunately, rather than change their behavior, Greka has treated these fines as a cost of doing business and has made little effort to correct their negligent maintenance practices," Nava says.
At the Gato Ponds site, EPA personnel will be on-site on October 20 to assess the potential subsurface soil and groundwater contamination from the leaking ponds and conduct a structural analysis of the ponds to determine their structural integrity.
Greka must provide Work Plans and Confirmation Sampling Plan and other documents for EPA approval no later then October 31, 2008. Failure to provide adequate plans will result in an EPA take over of all activities at the site, Wise said.
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