Suncor Refinery Spill Threatens River Supplying Denver Drinking Water

Wed, 2011-11-30 18:17Brendan DeMelle
Brendan DeMelle's picture

Suncor Refinery Spill Threatens River Supplying Denver Drinking Water

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

Previous Comments

Thanks for keeping the relentless reality of oil spills in our everyday conciousness. People need to know what we are signing up for with all the new tar sands pipes planned for Canada.

I also want to be sure to highlight the fact that every drop that isn’t accidentally spilled into our wood or waters will still get intentionally spilled into our atmosphere when burned.

The climate destabilizing pollution from burned oil continues doing damage for centuries. Imagine if second hand tabacco smoke lasted for a millenia and accumulated relentlessly.

A serious carbon-liability bubble is being inflated by the Merchants of Drought. As more and more Africans are saying recently at Durban, past emissions are already killing Africans. 

Oil pipelines are guaranteed to spill every drop one way or the other. Either way we lose big time.

It’s not all burned. I’m sure you’re a user yourself.

“All plastic is made from petroleum and plastic is used almost everywhere, in cars, houses, toys, computers and clothing. Asphalt used in road construction is a petroleum product as is the synthetic rubber in the tires. Paraffin wax comes from petroleum, as do fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, detergents, phonograph records, photographic film, furniture, packaging materials, surfboards, paints and artificial fibers used in clothing, upholstery, and carpet backing.”

http://ezinearticles.com/?Petroleum—Its-Uses-And-Benefits&id=775224

Oil is useful stuff.

..in our society is not directly fueled or driven by oil.

That is why this is a very real and noxious problem.  (Personally, I’m only concerned about the carbon.)

Humans lived for a long time without oil. We rely on it a lot now, but we can change that.

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