Martinez petroleum firm hit with suit

Martinez petroleum firm hit with suit

State and local prosecutors filed a $50 million lawsuit against a Martinez petroleum company and two of its affiliates Monday, accusing them of disabling monitoring devices that would help prevent gasoline leakage at their gas stations.

About 30 gas stations across the state owned by or associated with Martinez-based Golden Gate Petroleum were accused of tampering with safety monitoring sensors and other activities that might cause gas to leak into groundwater or soil undetected.

California Attorney General Jerry Brown, the State Water Resources Control Board and a number of district attorneys from several California counties filed the lawsuit in Contra Costa County Superior Court.

The board and the attorney general conducted a two-year investigation into the gas stations’ practices before the lawsuit was filed. The complaint accuses the company of violations including inoperable or missing line leak detectors, liquid and debris in the secondary containment, failure to perform monitoring within the required time period and alarm failure.

“This is one of the most egregious cases we’ve come across,” said David Boyers, senior staff counsel with the state water board’s enforcement office. “There’s a tremendous amount of noncompliance.”

He said the board has been negotiating with the company but wasn’t able to resolve the problems.

“They (the gas stations) did not have a spill or leak. There was no pollution that resulted from any of this,” said Mark Pollock, environmental counsel for Golden Gate Petroleum.

Golden Gate, founded in 1946, is a family-owned company that employs more than 75 people in Contra Costa County, said Lori O’Keefe, the company’s risk manager and daughter-in-law of company owner Dennis O’Keefe. The company supplies fuel to the county and the state, O’Keefe said.

Boyers agreed that the lawsuit is not about leaking gasoline, but rather violations that might lead to problems going undetected.

“Our action is not an action for releases (of gas into the environment),” the attorney said. “It’s an action for failure to comply with monitoring standards that are very important.”

Boyers said “a lot” of the sites involved in the suit have had releases of gasoline into the environment. According to GeoTracker, an online tool linked to environmental data for regulated facilities in California, Golden Gate Petroleum’s Hayward gas station at 1565 Industrial Parkway West had a leak in 1998.

The complaint lists 39 gas stations across the state owned by Golden Gate and its associates. It alleges that an investigation at the Golden Gate Petroleum gas station at 8285 Brentwood Blvd. in Brentwood revealed a leak from a turbine piping elbow of one tank, failed line detector tests for a tank turbine and a malfunctioning line leak detector for one tank, among other things.


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