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California Briefing / SANTA MARIA

U.S. takes over oil field cleanup

October 02, 2008|Catherine Saillant

Federal regulators took control of an oil field cleanup Wednesday after Greka Oil and Gas allegedly failed to do the work on time.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it was sending workers to finish cleanup of settling ponds on a lease near Cat Canyon Creek. Ponds were leaking in multiple locations and posed a spill hazard, said Mary Simms, an EPA spokeswoman.

Greka failed to meet multiple cleanup deadlines, Simms said. It's the third time in three years that the EPA has intervened in cleanups ordered for Greka-owned leases, she said.

"Efficient cleanup is especially important as we approach the rainy season," Simms said in a statement.

Ponds are used to contain contaminated water produced as a result of oil extraction. Leaks pose a threat to threatened and endangered species that live in nearby Cat Canyon Creek, regulators said.

Greka spokesman Robert Emmers said Wednesday's action stemmed from a disagreement over what work remained to be done at the ponds. The company thought it had finished the job, but the EPA disagreed, he said.

"The Greka folks have been in close touch with the EPA throughout this whole thing," Emmers said. "They thought they were in compliance."

Repeated oil spills on Greka-owned properties have raised alarm with federal, state and local regulators in Santa Barbara County. They have responded with heightened scrutiny of the oil and gas operator.

Greka faces fines of up to $32,500 a day for each violation of federal law, Simms said.

The federal government will seek reimbursement of cleanup costs from Greka.

-- Catherine Saillant

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