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Guardians Puts Denver Oil Refinery on Notice of Clean Air Violations

September 26, 2019
Jeremy Nichols, (303) 437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Climate + Energy  
Denver—WildEarth Guardians today put Suncor Energy on notice that it intends to file suit against the company over thousands of clean air violations at the company’s oil refinery north of Denver.

“The Suncor oil refinery is a clean air disaster, putting public health in the Denver Metro Area at extreme risk,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians.  “We’ve had enough of the company’s blatant and ongoing air quality violations, it’s time to clean up this dirty refinery once and for all.”

Todays’ notice letter comes as groups today plan to rally for clean air in the Denver Metro Area and demand the Suncor refinery shut down.  The rally comes amid global climate strike actions aimed at driving awareness and action to confront the climate crisis.

At issue are extensive violations of opacity limits at Suncor’s Denver-area refinery.  Opacity is a measure of the thickness of air pollution released from a smokestack and is monitored as an indicator of harmful emissions.

Based on Suncor’s own certified monitoring reports, the company violated its opacity limits at least 2,750 times between December 31, 2018 and June 30, 2019.  In early January 2019, the company violated opacity limits for more than seven days straight.  The company faces more than $274 million in potential penalties.

The opacity violations documented by WildEarth Guardians are a subset of the company’s overall list of recently monitored air quality violations.

In reports submitted to the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division in August, Suncor documented numerous instances of clean air violations, or “deviations,” at its West Plant and East Plant.  Among the violations: excessive hydrogen sulfide emissions, sulfur dioxide releases, smoking flares, leaking tanks and components releasing volatile organic compounds, and more.

“The opacity violations are really the tip of the iceberg at the Suncor refinery, but we hope that by targeting these violations, we can start to secure real clean air accountability,” said Nichols.  “Opacity is an indicator pollutant and right now, all indications are the Suncor refinery north of Denver is an absolute mess.”

The Suncor refinery’s air pollution has recently fallen under more intense scrutiny.  In July, state air regulators notified the company of air violations at the refinery.  Increasingly, the company has been under fire by nearby residents.  Calls to shut down the Denver area refinery are mounting.

Under the Clean Air Act, citizens can file suit to enforce violations of permit limits.  Before filing suit, polluters first need to be given 60-days of notice of their violations.  Today’s letter to Suncor starts the 60-day period, after which WildEarth Guardians intends to file suit in federal court in Denver if the violations cannot  be resolved.

“The ball’s in Suncor’s court,” said Nichols.  “Either they agree to atone for their violations and make the necessary repairs and upgrades to prevent future violations or we go to court.  Either way, we’re on track to effectively safeguard clean air and health.”