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Suncor Oil Refinery To Pay $9 Million In 'Historic' Colorado Pollution Settlement

Steven Bratman/CC BY 2.0
Suncor's refinery in Commerce City, Colo., can produce up to 98,000 barrels a day of gasoline, diesel fuel and asphalt.

The massive Suncor oil refinery near low-income neighborhoods in Denver will pay roughly $9 million due to air pollution violations as part of a settlement that Colorado officials lauded as the largest ever for a single facility.

State health officials said the refinery exceeded emissions limits for a host of health-harming pollutants, including hydrogen cyanide, nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide. The violations were tracked from the summer of 2017 through the end of last year, officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said Friday as they announced the details of the settlement.

The terms include:

  • $2.6 million for "supplemental environmental projects" to benefit the surrounding community. The settlement provides for a community process which involves residents serving on a committee to review and select the projects to implement.
  • Improved communications from Suncor, which "must work with the community to develop this program," state officials said.
  • Suncor is expected to enlist a third party to conduct a root cause investigation of critical refinery processes to determine the causes of excessive emissions with a goal of preventing or minimizing recurrences. Suncor is obligated to spend up to $5 million implementing the recommendations from the investigation.
  • Suncor is required to increase monitoring for hydrogen cyanide both at the refinery and in the surrounding communities.
  • Suncor must pay $1 million in cash administrative penalties to the state and $426,705 in stipulated and other cash penalties to the state and federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Garry Kaufman, who directs the state’s air pollution program, said the settlement aims to hold Suncor accountable for violations and to prevent more in the future.
“The underlying message is clear: Suncor needs to do much better, and we believe this settlement puts them on a path toward achieving this,” he said in a statement.

The company said in a statement on social media it would commit to the terms outlined by the state.

“The refinery’s recent environmental performance has not lived up to our expectations,” the company said. “We can and will do better.”

Drew Dutcher, a representative for the Elyria-Swansea Neighborhood Association near the refinery, praised state officials for the settlement and efforts to reduce harmful pollution.

He said the association has questioned the refinery's emissions for years and looked to officials to hold it more accountable.

"What's important is that Colorado is now standing up," Dutcher said.

He added that the association plans to go through the settlement’s details, keeping an eye on funds to be distributed, especially the $2.4 million for community environmental projects.

"Suncor has got to be watched," he said. "We need environmental regulation. This is the air we breathe."

The refinery in Commerce City is the only petroleum refinery in Colorado. It’s also one of the largest in the Rocky Mountain region.

The state settled four previous enforcement actions against the company in recent years for similar air pollution violations, according to CDPHE actions published online.

The facility made headlines last December when an equipment malfunction sent a cloud billowing into the air. Ash rained down on surrounding communities, causing panic at surrounding schools and businesses.

I cover a wide range of issues within Colorado’s dynamic economy including energy, labor, housing, beer, marijuana, elections and other general assignment stories.
As investigative reporter for KUNC, I take tips from our audience and, well, investigate them. I strive to go beyond the obvious, to reveal new facts, to go in-depth and to bring new perspectives and personalities to light.
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