Monday, November 12, 2007

Local oil spill puzzles authorities


After more than 6,000 gallons of oil spewed onto the ground at a Greka Energy drilling facility near Santa Maria yesterday, Santa Barbara County Fire Department officials were left questioning why Greka employees failed to properly monitor toxic gases that accompanied the spill.
“I want to be able to say we know the levels are safe, but now I don’t know,” said County Fire Captain Eli Iskow. “It’s their responsibility to make sure they’re not releasing any toxic material that would be harmful to the public.”

Iskow said the spill, which was located at 3851 Telephone Road -- about a half mile away from homes in the Lake Marie tract -- was reported just after 1 p.m.
Immediately after the spill, Iskow said Greka officials were monitoring the levels of released hydrogen sulfide gas, which are a byproduct of drilling for oil. But as of about 8 p.m., no monitor was present at the site. Iskow said gas monitors are not only mandated during a spill, but are required at all times.
When asked about the spill, a Greka official hung up on a Daily Sound reporter and subsequent phone messages were not immediately returned.
The occurrence of oil spills in the county are not a rare occurrence, according to Iskow, but he said they rarely are severe enough to overflow prepared containment areas, which yesterday’s spill managed to do by 6,300 gallons, or 150 barrels.
“This is a moderate-to-large spill,” Iskow said.
Iskow said the spill had been contained and that early monitoring results did not indicate toxic levels of the sulfide gas was released.
But that was little relief to Iskow, who said it was troubling a monitor wasn’t present at the spill site yesterday evening and noted that Greka is currently involved in litigation with the county over past violations stemming from their local oil operations.
“It’s a real big deal,” Iskow said. “It’s a real difficult process, it’s a tedious process dealing with oil and gas regulations.”
Iskow said he did not yet know what type of violation or the penalty could be issued by the county for Greka’s failure to monitor the gas levels, but expected more information would be made available today.
He said yesterday’s spill occurred when Greka employees opened a valve on a storage tank, which would not close.
An initial statement issued by the County Fire Department said the levels of sulfide gas were being monitored and monitoring would be ongoing.

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