State Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara) called for steeper fines for “serial oil spillers,” singling out local company Greka Energy as one of California’s worst violators, at a press conference April 4 in Santa Barbara.

Calling Greka “one of the most serious violators of inland spills that we have seen anywhere,” Nava said more than 500,000 gallons of oil have been leaked in Santa Barbara County in the past eight months by the company, which also operates in Ventura County at Rincon Island.

Nava authored two bills designed to curb oil pollution statewide.

The first, AB 1960, would establish minimum maintenance standards for California oil facilities and would give state regulatory agencies the power to shutdown operations that do not meet the safety and environmental requirements. The bill would require companies with a history of negligence or outstanding liabilities with the state to pay into a bond fund. The money would be used for oil spill cleanups and also to cap the state’s 400 orphaned oil wells, Nava said.

Nava’s second bill, AB 2912, would increase fines for oil polluters and make penalties for marine and inland spills the same. In the past, companies responsible for inland spills have been penalized about a third less often than those responsible for coastal spills, Nava said.

“It is unacceptable that the most egregious violators such as Greka Energy can pollute for years and not be held accountable and forced to clean up their act,” Nava said.

About a dozen Oxnard City Corps members attended Friday’s press conference on the steps of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse.

“These spills disproportionally affect our communities,” said Gustavo De Haro, a 24-year-old Corps leader. “This is a first step, but really it’s long overdue. These problems have been in our county for a long time. The degradation of our beaches has been steady for the past 10 to 15 years. It’s unfair and unjust.”

City Corps leader Mario Jimenez, 25, said through their work with the National Fish and Wildlife Service, they have seen firsthand how oil pollution is affecting Ventura County’s environment.
“The storm drains lead into the beaches, and at high tide some of the fish get stuck in the drains,” Jimenez said. “People a lot of times will eat the trapped fish, but we’ve done tests and found that the fish are high in metals. That’s one of the things I’ve seen happen to our wildlife.”

Ventura City Councilman Brian Brennan, who also attended the press conference, said he supports the legislation Nava has put forward and hopes it will be a wake-up call to Greka.

“The city of Ventura has a history in taking oil out of the ground, and Greka is here, too,” he said. “I hope this gets the attention of Greka in Ventura and the other oil companies here.”

The Rincon Island facility was shutdown by authorities in January after the pier leading to it was damaged in a storm.

Brennan said the bond fund will ensure that taxpayers don’t have to pay for the accidents of oil companies.

“I’m excited about having bonds available to do cleanup, because I just want to know that when there is an accident, there is a way to address it, and it shouldn’t be on the backs of taxpayers,” he said.

Twelve-year-old Tanya Cervantes, a City Corps member, said she hopes locals will continue to push for tighter regulations on oil companies to protect Ventura County beaches.

“So when they grow up and they have children so they can pass it on to them and we can keep the ocean a better place,” she said.