Colorado Health Department Announces Settlement Agreement with Suncor
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) announced an “historic” settlement agreement with Suncor Energy on Friday to resolve violations at its Commerce City refinery. The enforcement package will total $9 million – $4 million of which will be paid as fines and funding of community projects and the rest dedicated to refinery improvements.
“Our number one goal is to get facilities back into compliance as quickly as possible,” said John Putnam, director of environmental programs at CDPHE during a press conference.
The package covers violations from July 2017 through June 2019. Suncor says that the settlement will also lead to additional community engagement and be subject to an outside party reviewing procedures.
“The settlement agreement outlines several key projects that the refinery will complete to improve its operations and environmental performance. This includes engaging an independent third-party to identify refinery improvement opportunities, conducting refinery and community air monitoring, and working with our stakeholders and neighbors to improve how we share information,” the company said in a statement.
The settlement also addresses a high profile “opacity” event that occurred at the refinery on December 11, 2019 where a clay-like substance was emitted from the facility and settled in the surrounding areas. According to Suncor, the event was caused by too much torch oil being added during a startup process.
While the event was met with concern by those living in the community, CDPHE today confirmed that there was no health threat was detected in the area after testing samples.
“In essence what we found was that it mimicked dust that we would find in the community. We didn’t find any unusual or unique toxic components to that dust,” Putnam said. “That being said, we’re looking to better enhance some of our capability to respond to events either at this facility or otherwise in the future to collect more gaseous and other information more quickly which is unfortunately a capacity we don’t have right now.”
When asked about air monitoring and oversight around the Suncor facility, CDPHE Air Pollution Control Division Director Gary Kaufman affirmed the state hasn’t detected substances emitted from the refinery that would pose a threat to public health.
“We do have an extensive air monitoring at work across the metro area and a number of monitors in the area around the refinery. While we occasionally see some elevated levels, we haven’t seen any levels recently that would cause concern from a public health perspective in the area right around the refinery,” Kaufman said. “That doesn’t mean that more investigation isn’t necessary – we need to investigate more – but we haven’t seen any levels that we would consider alarming to public health.”
Putnam also stated that he sees room for a productive relationship between Suncor and the surrounding community.
“We view this as an important opportunity to hit the reset button for Suncor and its operations at that facility as well as its relationship with the community,” Putnam said. “We look forward to the opportunity to engage with the community to really flesh out the details of those environmental projects as well as a communications plan moving forward. It’s critical to us that the community have that voice and we’re looking forward to helping them exercise it.”