Greka's big week



It's been an eventful week for beleaguered oil company Greka.

First, the Environmental Protection Agency took over cleanup at the oil and gas company's Bell Lease in Northern Santa Barbara County on April 1. Then a local assemblyman said he was introducing two bills in response to Greka's poor environmental record.

The most recent development, however, was a piece of good news for the company: Santa Barbara County released the stop-work order on Greka's Bell Lease site on April 7. That site had been shut down since December.

Greka can continue operations at the Bell Lease under a temporary 90-day permit, provided the company fixes a list of required repairs and improvements and that the company's work doesn't interfere with the cleanup work now being conducted by the EPA.

"We're pleased to be able to get back into operations at Bell," said Greka spokesperson Robert Emmers. "We also look forward to working with the county to get back into production at the U-Cal and Zaca leases in the near future."

According to a letter from Santa Barbara County Fire Warden John Scherrel to Greka president Andrew DeVegvar, the 90-day permit is contingent on the company continuing to improve the facilities. Some of the tasks listed in the letter include submitting a new Bell Lease System Fire Upgrade Work Plan, soil remediation, tank inspections, installing netting over ponds.

While improvements have been made at the Bell Lease facility, they were not enough to keep the EPA from taking over cleanup operations at that site. The EPA said that Greka failed to do an adequate job cleaning the site and that cleanup wasn't moving quickly enough, prompting the agency to step in. Greka disputed those claims.

Bills introduced by Assemblyman Pedro Nava are also expected to be heard in Sacramento within the next week. If passed, the two bills, which were created in a direct response to inland spills by Greka, would make the company more accountable for its actions, Nava said.

Nava said that his office started work on the bills immediately after Greka's large spill in December. He said that he expects both bills to be heard before the Natural Resources Committee in Sacramento within a week, and to be forwarded to the floor of the assembly after that.

"I was confronting a situation that has been eight years in the making, and I needed people to understand that this is one of my top priorities," he said.

Greka president Andrew DeVegvar issued a statement in response to Nava's press conference that announced the proposed bills on April 4.

"Greka's goal is to become a leader in environmental safety, as we have demonstrated with our Greka Green program and other initiatives such as 24/7 coverage at our facilities and plans to add concrete safety walls to prevent spills," DeVegvar said. "We support reasonable legislative efforts to improve environmental safety as long as standards are applied equally and fairly. We don't believe Greka or any other operator should be singled out in any arbitrary or unreasonable way."

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