By Larry Bishop
Thanks to frequent complaints of odious oil company violations of safety standards, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisor (BOS) received a report from their Planning Commission, last month, detailing the industries compliance with various health and safety regulations. Not surprisingly, one oil company stood out as a chronic violator of various health, safety, and environmental regulations.
The big surprise, in this compilation of oil company deviations from safe practice, was the lack of violations found in most all of the other oil and gas producers in the County. In the Planning Department’s summary tables for various classes of violations for each company, there were a lot of zeros with only minimal violation numbers listed for all the other companies studied.
Based on my 30 years as a hazardous material inspector at these type of facilities in L.A. and Santa Barbara Counties, these were amazing results! The oil business, by its very nature, is a messy affair, just as cattle feed lots are a stinky business. In my dozens of inspections of these oil facilities, both large and small, well run or disasters-waiting-to-happen, I could always write up a dozen or so significant violation. I usually wrote up only half that many for fear of being branded a “white glove” inspector.
Whether on an oil platform off Goleta, or at a small group of wells in Cuyama, pump seals and pipes leak, spills are not reported or cleaned up, emergency plans are years out of date or not implemented at all. I guarantee that, if you go to most facilities today, they will not be accurately reporting their gas inventory, and the risk it poses, if they have even estimated these at all. This is a big deal for plants that have to implement State and Federal Risk Management Plans.
So give me a break. The Planning Department compiled inspection records for two years, at 23 oil facilities, inspected by five agencies, and found only a handful of violations? What gives? After I complained to the Board about this, a Planning Department staff member told the Board that only violations that weren’t corrected within 30 days of notice were counted as violations.
Oh really? So a pipe leak, ignored for months, did not occur since the operator repaired the leak within 30 days of a written notice by an inspector? Now this is fair because the CHP routinely tears up my speeding tickets when they subsequently observe me going the speed limit. By the way, I rarely found that all violations were corrected within 30 days of my notice.
On March 13, at the County Administration building in Santa Maria, the Planning Commission may vote to approve a massive new, extreme extraction, oil project by ERG Inc. in Cat Canyon. If you value your drinking water, your air quality, and a safe climate for your grandchildren, you might want to contact your County Supervisor soon. Ask them how well ERG Inc. is complying with current health, safety, environmental, and financial standards.
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