Tighter regulations for Suncor refinery on the way, Colorado public health officials say
Following repeated pollution violations this year and calls to shut down the Suncor Energy oil refinery in Commerce City, Colorado health officials are seeking to renew the facility’s water quality permit, albeit with tighter restrictions.
The refinery has been allowed to operate on expired permits because the company applied to renew them before they lapsed. And now officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment are considering a new water quality permit for the facility, spokeswoman Erin Garcia said in a release.
The new permit would be more restrictive than the old one, Garcia said, and aims to better protect Sand Creek and downstream waters. The permit would also require more transparency surrounding the refinery’s operations and impose more pollution monitoring requirements and limits for toxic metals and chemicals.
Suncor would be required to conduct “frequent” site inspections ensure that drinking water moving through its property remains safe, bolster its maintenance operations and alert people by text message if or when a spill occurs.
“The site has had frequent problems with poor maintenance, spills, and violations, and so we are responding to that by implementing new measures to hold the facility accountable,” Nicole Rowan, division director of CDPHE’s Water Quality Control Division said in a release.
But the draft permit isn’t finished yet, so state officials are soliciting public input. The department will host a virtual meeting Thursday between 6:30 p.m. and 8 a.m. to review current details of the draft permit. In addition the department will accept public feedback on the draft through Feb. 10, 2020. Additional details and public comment sections can be found online at cdphe.colorado.gov.
The facility has repeatedly violated pollution standards, even after state health officials boasted last year of fining the company up to $9 million for violations in 2017. Between March 27 and April 22 of this year, the refinery exceeded pollution limits 15 times, emitting too-high levels of hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide.
State officials are also currently considering an air quality permit for the refinery, which would allow more of some types of pollution and crack down on others, The Denver Post reported in May. That proposed permit would raise permissible limits of volatile organic compounds that form ground-level ozone by 138 tons per year and allow 11 tons more particulate soot a year. It would, however, reduce sulfur dioxide and carbon monoxide.
Suncor spokeswoman Mita Adesanya said of the draft water permit: “We will take time to review the details in the draft water permit and follow the established permit renewal process.”
In the bigger picture, however, Suncor has pledged to invest $300 million in the refinery before 2023 to make the facility “better, not bigger.” To that end, Adesanya told The Post in September that the company installed an automated shutdown system in part of the plant last year and will upgrade the rest of the facility with similar technology by the end of next year.