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After concluding Greka Energy improperly stored hazardous waste at its facility near Santa Maria, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday ordered the company to conduct sampling to determine whether its operations resulted in contaminated local soil and groundwater.

The order comes after a Dec. 13 inspection of Greka’s facility — which does not have a required permit to store hazardous waste — that found the company improperly stored, labeled and managed hazardous waste from their refinery processes, an EPA spokeswoman said.

EPA inspectors documented waste dumped directly into an unlined pit, also known as a surface impoundment, located 90 feet from agricultural lands.    

The refinery, located at 1660 Sinton Road, is situated on a 30-acre plot of land that is around 4 miles west of Santa Maria. The impoundment is located at the southern end of the property and is approximately 170 feet wide and 445 feet long. 

Kieran Adam, of Adam Brothers Family Farms, which owns agricultural land adjacent to the refinery, said he wasn't familiar with the EPA's order to Greka and declined to comment. 

According to the Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department, Greka's facility receives approximately 5,000 barrels of crude oil per day from various nearby onshore oil fields and from the San Ardo Field in Monterey County for the production of asphalt and related products like naphtha. Heavy gas oils, muriatic acid, caustic soda and sulfuric acid are used in the refinery's operations. 

Hazardous waste produced by Greka's facility includes hexavalent chromium and benzene, both of which are carcinogenic, according to the EPA.   

The order requires Greka to develop a plan to determine and catalog the magnitude and extent of possible off-site migration of hazardous wastes from its facility, which is located near residential and agricultural areas in Santa Maria and Guadalupe, the spokeswoman said.

The company has 45 days to submit the plan to the EPA for approval.

"Greka is confident of its diligent processes in its refinery operations and is reviewing the order and shall address all requested items to EPA's satisfaction," said Susan Whalen, an attorney for Greka, in a written statement.

The EPA's order was an administrative action taken under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which is the principal federal law that governs the disposal of hazardous waste.

“Poor management of hazardous waste can release contaminants into the environment and affect local communities,” EPA Pacific Southwest Deputy Regional Administrator Deborah Jordan said in a Thursday news release. “Today’s order requires Greka to determine if its refinery is affecting nearby farmlands, groundwater and the communities of Santa Maria and Guadalupe.”

The company, which was temporarily represented by current EPA Region 9 Administrator Mike Stoker, has a history of oil spills and issues with environmental compliance. In March 2011, the company agreed to pay over $2 million to Santa Barbara County as compensation for oil spills that occurred in 2007 and 2008. In April 2018, Greka was hit with a $12.5 million fine by state regulators for safety violations at its oil field in Orange County.

Greka’s oil operations, which include hundreds of wells, are concentrated in Santa Barbara, Ventura, Kern and Orange counties.

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Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed

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Santa Maria City Government