Suncor refinery wants permit renewed; neighbors are fighting it

Local News

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (KDVR) — People in Colorado are now getting the chance to weigh in as the state’s major oil refinery is asking for an important permit to be renewed.

Suncor Energy wants the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to renew a permit for Plant 2.

The refinery sits on 229 acres in Commerce City and employs about 500 people. It produces about a third of the gasoline Colorado drivers use, almost all the jet fuel for Denver International Airport and a majority of the state’s asphalt.

“We take our responsibilities seriously,” said Donald Austin, the vice president of the refinery.

Austin spoke Saturday morning during a virtual public hearing that’s part of the permitting process. There will be another hearing Tuesday.

Austin said Suncor is trying to reduce pollution. He said the refinery has spent nearly $400 million since 2015 on new technology, including automatic shutoff equipment to prevent excessive releases of pollution and a new pipeline that has reduced the number of trucks needing to drive to the facility by about 150 every day.

“Another example would be fuel quality improvements to reduce the environmental impacts of fuels,” Austin said. “Here we added equipment to reduce benzene and sulfur in our fuels.”

But for people who live in the neighborhoods near Suncor, all of that is still not enough.

“This community is fed up,” said Lucy Molina, a frequent critic of the refinery. “And we’re asking the community to step it up and testify.”

Molina has lived about a mile and a half from Suncor for about the last decade.

She was there in 2019, when a strange dust rained down over the area. Suncor described it as a “nonhazardous” clay-like catalyst.

Molina was also there in 2020, when the refinery released a blast of hydrogen sulfide and carbon monoxide into the air.

“It’s time we wake up as a community and as a state and as a nation,” Molina said. “Environmental racism is an issue in our communities, especially in brown and Black communities. Low-income communities.”

Molina wants Suncor’s permit to be revised or even revoked.

Suncor recently released an independent report that the company paid for. It describes the refinery as adequately funded and designed to meet environmental permits, although it pointed out that the company’s safety culture needs improvements.

Last year Suncor agreed to a $9 million settlement with CDPHE for air quality violations, the largest ever in Colorado for the issue.

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