Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Oil spill second in two days


Less than one day after responding to an oil spill that belched 6,300 gallons of crude oil onto the ground at a Greka Energy facility near Santa Maria, officials from the Santa Barbara County Fire department responded to another spill at the same location yesterday morning that spewed 840 gallons.
County Fire Captain Eli Iskow said yesterday’s spill was caused by an over-pressurization of a heater, which forced a pressure relief valve to activate and release the oil.

Iskow said neither of the oil spills threatened environmentally sensitive areas or watersheds, but they occurred about a half-mile away from homes in the Lake Marie tract.
Iskow said the first spill, which occurred at about 1 p.m. on Monday, was a mixture of crude oil, waste water and hydrogen sulfide gases -- the latter two being byproducts of drilling for oil. He said the 840 gallons that spilled onto the ground yesterday consisted solely of crude oil.
During the first spill, Iskow was concerned that Greka officials were not correctly monitoring the gas levels that were released during the spill.
Phone messages left with a Greka representative were not immediately returned to the Daily Sound.
Rick Todd, a deputy fire marshal for the county, said investigations into the causes of the oil spills and how to prevent them in the future are going to commence.
Todd said he couldn’t verify whether or not Greka was properly monitoring the gas levels, but said such determinations will be made after investigating.
He said oil spills of this nature are not uncommon, and two spills at the same facility within a 24-hour span could indicate that the equipment used there needs to be updated.
He said the spills often occur when a company begins to use equipment it hasn’t for some time, but noted that he didn’t know for sure if this was the case in this situation.
“They require maintenance just like your car and that’s the company’s responsibility,” Todd said.
The larger of the two oil spills was caused by a faulty valve that Iskow said wouldn’t close once it was opened. He said the two spills were mere feet from one another and nearly merged into one.
County fire hazardous materials crews responded to both spills, and Iskow said Greka employees bermed both spills and were in the process of cleaning them up yesterday evening.
Iskow called Monday’s spill “moderate to large,” and said spills rarely overflow prepared containment areas, which the earlier spill managed to do my 6,300 gallons, or 150 barrels.
Todd said one recent incident with Greka entailed a fire at one of its Santa Ynez Valley facilities. He said after the fire was put out, Greka wanted to commence work at the facility, but the county ordered no work be done until the company could demonstrate to fire officials it was safe.
As for the two spills, Todd said the fact that they occurred in such a short amount of time is likely a coincidence.
“The two don’t seem to be linked aside from the site,” Todd said. “Either way, we got a lot of crude oil and water on the ground which is not a good thing.”

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