DENVER (KDVR) — Suncor rained an ash-like substance on the community around its Commerce City refinery, and now the company will pay after it reached a settlement with regulators.

A catalyst released from the refinery back in December 2019 caused a white, clay-like material to fall on the neighborhood nearby. While the company said the substance was not hazardous, elementary and middle schools were forced to shelter indoors as the material piled up on vehicles and buildings around them.

Suncor offered free car washes for a week after the incident.

On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced a settlement worth more than $300,000 over the incident.

Suncor to pay fine, fund fire equipment

Suncor will pay $60,000 in civil penalties. It also will spend at least $240,030 on emergency response equipment for the South Adams County Fire Department, with the aim of improving its ability to respond to chemical accidents, according to the EPA.

The EPA said inspectors visited the refinery for three days in September 2020 to find the root cause of the incident. They say Suncor violated these regulations:

  • Suncor failed to maintain correct process safety information, complete outstanding process hazard analyses, update operating procedures and follow management of change procedures.
  • Suncor failed to timely report two releases and failed to report sulfuric acid in their industrial batteries to the local emergency responders.

As part of the settlement, Suncor neither admitted to nor denied the alleged violations, according to the document.

Suncor is Colorado’s only petroleum refinery

Suncor, a Canadian oil company, operates Colorado’s only petroleum refinery. It’s off Brighton Boulevard, just north of East 56th Avenue and along Sand Creek.

The refinery’s operations in Colorado have faced heightened scrutiny in recent years: It has a history of noncompliance when it comes to pollution regulations, leading to Suncor’s record $9 million settlement with Colorado over air quality violations, including in the ash incident.

Suncor says it buys crude oil from the Denver-Julesburg Basin to process in Commerce City, selling 95% of the products within Colorado. That includes gasoline, diesel, paving asphalt and jet fuel, including about a third of the jet fuel used at Denver International Airport.