* Leak from firm's refinery hits South Platte River
* Firm says leak has been contained, source not identified
* Refinery warned that stricter safety measures needed
By David Sheppard and Joshua Schneyer
Nov 30 Suncor Energy said on Wednesday
it has contained a leak of an oily substance near its Commerce
City refinery in Colorado that was running into Sand Creek,
which joins a river that supplies Denver with water.
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. It said
plant operations were unaffected.
The leak comes a month after Colorado's Department of
Public Health warned Suncor that it needed to take stricter
measures to mitigate contamination that an investigation found
was coming from the site and could threaten local water
Neither Suncor nor the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) gave an estimate on how big the leak was, which the EPA
said appeared to be a petroleum product.
A spokeswoman for the company, based in Calgary, said it
was not clear if there had been a leak from one of the plant's
pipelines, as reported by some media.
"Our focus is on cleanup at this point," said Sneh Seetal,
a Suncor spokeswoman at the firm's headquarters in Calgary.
"We do not see more product leaking."
Seetal said a Suncor crew discovered an oily sheen on Sand
Creek on Monday after an unusual odor was reported by one
EPA spokeswoman Karen Edson said workers were using
absorbent booms to contain the substance along a 200- to
300-meter stretch of the Sand Creek. Suncor workers are also
building a ditch to keep it from flowing further, she said.
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.
While minor spills and leaks are not uncommon near major
energy facilities, a series of larger pipeline leaks in recent
years and fierce resistance to a proposed major new conduit
from Canada has heightened awareness of the environmental risks
PLANT CITED FOR PREVIOUS RELEASES
The EPA and Suncor said they have been managing the spill
response since Monday.
Colorado's Department of Public Health and Environment
issued Suncor's Commerce City plant a compliance order on
October 26, 2011, a copy of which was sent to Reuters.
The order says that a department investigation indicated
"that recent releases of hazardous waste and hazardous
constituents on-site, are now migrating off-site in excess of
The order set specific dates for Suncor to show it was
complying with health and safety orders at its facility.
"The seeps that began on Sunday would appear to be
different from the issues that are discussed in the compliance
order," said Mark Salley, spokesman for the Colorado Department
of Public Health and Environment. "However, that is going to be
subject to investigation."
The notice also ordered Suncor to "routinely monitor" Sand
Creek and another body of water nearby.
Suncor, Canada's largest oil and gas producer, is the
dominant oil sands player and expects output to hit
300,000-310,000 bpd this year, but the sector has been dogged
by environmental concerns.
TransCanada Corp's planned $7 billion Keystone
pipeline linking Canadian oil sands production with U.S.
refiners on the Gulf Coast has been vociferously opposed by
The Denver Post said the Commerce City leak was first
reported by a local fisherman on Sunday. Workers at the Metro
Wastewater plant next to the refinery have been provided with
respirators due to the stench from the fluid in recent days,
the paper said.
Suncor shares rose 4 percent to C$30.72 on the Toronto
Stock Exchange on Wednesday, tracking higher oil prices.