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WildEarth Guardians to File Suit Against Suncor over Denver Oil Spill

December 2, 2011
Jeremy Nichols (303) 573-4898 x 1303
In This Release
Climate + Energy  
Denver—WildEarth Guardians today put Suncor Energy on notice of an impending lawsuit over the company’s ongoing spill of oil into Sand Creek and the South Platte River in North Denver.

The aim of the lawsuit is to force a speedier clean up of Sand Creek and the South Platte, more effectively hold Suncor accountable to protecting public health and the environment, and provide much-needed certainty for the public that another oil spill will not happen.

“Suncor has poisoned Sand Creek and the South Platte River,”said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “Our goal is to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.”

The oil spill, which was first reported by Suncor on November 28, is linked to a broken pipe at the company’s Commerce City oil refinery. According to reports,the spill has released benzene, a known carcinogen, into Sand Creek and threatened drinking water supplies. The spill has also released fumes that have forced workers to wear respirators for their protection. Suncor has admitted that the spill has come from its refinery property.

Today’s notice was filed under the federal Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act, which both provide provisions for citizens to file suit in federal court order to enforce violations of air and water quality laws. Before citizens can file suit, however, they first have to provide 60 days notice to the polluter. Today’s notice to Suncor triggers the60-day clock, after which WildEarth Guardians intends to file suit if the violations have not been fully resolved.

Although a state clean up order was issued to Suncor on December 1st, WildEarth Guardians worries that lax enforcement over the years is largely, if not entirely, to blame for the latest spill. Environmental Protection Agency reports indicate that Suncor has regularly violated clean air and water laws over the years, releasing tons of toxic pollution. Despite being fined by the state of Colorado four out of the last five years for environmental violations, the company continues to be in violation of environmental laws.

“We dearly hope a lawsuit won’t be necessary,” said Nichols. “However, if state and federal regulators and Suncor don’t step up to aggressively clean up this mess and keep it cleaned up, WildEarth Guardians will ask a federal judge to weigh in. Sand Creek and the South Platte are too important to lose to more carelessness and lax enforcement.”

The violations at issue include illegal discharge of hazardous materials into Sand Creek and the failure to control air emissions from the hazardous materials in accordance with Suncor’s air pollution permits.

If filed, the lawsuit will seek an injunction to prevent future illegal pollution, civil penalties, which could be as high as $37,500 per violation per day, and a declaration that Suncor has acted illegally.