Suncor Refinery Spill Threatens River Supplying Denver Drinking Water

Suncor Refinery Spill Threatens River Supplying Denver Drinking Water
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Just another day in reckless energy land. A broken pipeline at the Commerce City refinery operated by tar sands producer Suncor appears to have leaked an “oily muck” into Sand Creek in Colorado.

The spill may pose a threat to Denver drinking water supplies, although luckily it appears to have been contained, according to some media accounts.

Reuters reports that:

“The Canadian energy firm said it had not yet identified the source of the leak, but acknowledged it was likely coming from its 93,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery in the area. …

Sand Creek joins the South Platte River, a major source of drinking water for the Denver metropolitan area.

Suncor’s Commerce City plant recently underwent a $540 million upgrade to enable it to handle more heavy oil sands crude from Canada.

NRDC‘s Switchboard blogger Anthony Swift reports that: 

The spill was discovered by a fisherman Sunday morning who saw sheen on the river and said the area smelled like a gas station. On Monday officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) arrived onsite and Suncor reported a leak. On Tuesday evening Suncor and EPA officials decided to dig a trench. This afternoon, EPA officials announced that three small booms erected on a bank of Sand Creek appear to be containing the oil and preventing further contamination.

The extent of the contamination is still unclear. If the leak involves tar sands diluted bitumen, the contamination could be more severe. Tar sands diluted bitumen spills are associated with significantly more submerged oil which cannot be contained by surface booms. Spill responders are still struggling to handle the submerged oil at Enbridge’s Kalamazoo oil spill. However, this spill shows the weakness in spill response and is yet another example of the very real risks inherent in tar sands infrastructure projects.

Update Dec 2: A DeSmog reader alerted us to this update today, which indicates that, if it weren’t for the diligence of the unnamed fisherman, an Idaho man who read his blog, and the Denver Post’s follow-up call to EPA, this spill might have spread farther thanks to an incompetent initial response by the state of Colorado. “It’s not like the fisherman reported the spill and everyone jumped into action. The actual process is remarkable.” Indeed, remarkably scary.
“On Sunday morning, a fisherman reported the latest spill into Sand Creek and the South Platte after wading into the muck. The state relied on the Tri-County Health Department to check out the report, and Tri-County could not find an oil sheen on the water.
The fisherman wrote a blog post that was read by a man in Boise, Idaho, who left a voice message at The Denver Post. Post queries Monday included a check with an EPA duty officer. That officer dispatched Kimbel, who smelled and then found the mess and launched an EPA response Monday afternoon
.”
National Wildlife Federation has more information about the potential impacts on wildlife and water supplies: Possible Tar Sands Spill Fouls Colorado Creek, Threatens Wildlife and Drinking Water
 

Image credit: Jeff Whyte / Shutterstock

Suncor Refinery Spill Threatens River Supplying Denver Drinking Water
Brendan is Executive Director of DeSmog. He is also a freelance writer and researcher specializing in media, politics, climate change and energy. His work has appeared in Vanity Fair, The Huffington Post, Grist, The Washington Times and other outlets.

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