California Refinery Fined $1 Million for Breaking Drinking Water Laws

A California refinery was sentenced to three years probation and ordered to pay a criminal penalty for violating the Safe Drinking Water Act. The company must apply $500,000 of the $1 million penalty towards the Los Padres National Forest Restoration Project.

Investigators from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice determined that Santa Maria Refining Co., located in Santa Maria, Calif., and a subsidiary of Greka Energy Corp., disposed of contaminated wastewater into wells that were not permitted for that use, posing a risk to groundwater supplies. The wastewater contained benzene, which can cause anemia, excessive bleeding and cancer, and also affects the immune system.

The company was also sentenced for making false statements to the EPA. In addition to the penalty and probation, the company must pay the EPA $15,500 in restitution, and must implement an independently audited environmental compliance program.

Three individual defendants have also pleaded guilty to making false statements to EPA in connection with this case. They each face statutory maximum sentences of five years in federal prison. Sentencing is pending.

Since April 2004, the EPA has been investigating allegations that officials at Greka had knowingly and routinely discharged oil refinery waste into underground injection wells that are permitted only for the disposal of brine, which is separated from crude oil during the refining process.

In June 2006, EPA fined Greka’s Santa Maria facility $127,500 for unauthorized disposal of oil refinery wastewater into the facility’s injection wells.


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