California, U.S. File Toxic Tort Lawsuit Over Oil Spills

The federal government and the state of California are suing an oil company for multiple oil spills and the release of other chemicals that have plagued the waterways of Santa Barbara County for the last five years. 

The toxic tort lawsuit was filed against HVI Cat Canyon Inc., formerly known as Greka Oil & Gas Co., on June 17 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

Plaintiffs include the United States, the California Department of Fish and Game and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board. The complaint claims that the company is guilty of multiple violations of state and federal water laws.

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According to a Department of Justice (DOJ) press release, Greka repeatedly made illegal discharges of crude oil and contaminated water from oil and gas facilities in the county. The lawsuit claims there were 21 spills between June 2005 and December 2010 due to overflowing injection ponds, pipelines cracked from corrosion and ruptured storage tanks.

The lawsuit seeks to force the company to come into compliance with the Clean Water Act and prevent, and, if necessary, respond to future spills. The lawsuit also seeks to recover $2.4 million the U.S. spent on cleanup operations linked to the spills. It also seeks fines of up to $32,500 per day for violations of Oil Pollution prevention regulations that occurred between March 15, 2004 and January 12, 2009 and $37,500 per day for spills that occurred after that. The lawsuit also seeks $1,100 to $4,300 per barrel of oil discharged in the spills.

The amount of oil and other chemicals released is still being investigated. In some cases, it took outside parties who noticed oily pollutants in the water to alert the state that there had been a Greka oil spill.

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