Curtis Kimbel (EPA): ‘The material appears to be coming from Suncor property, migrating under the Metro Wastewater property and daylighting in Sand Creek’

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From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

“The material appears to be coming from Suncor property, migrating under the Metro Wastewater property and daylighting in Sand Creek,” said EPA emergency response manager Curtis Kimbel.

State health department managers today told the Associated Press that Suncor Energy reported a break in a spur of an underground pipe that runs between a storage tank and refinery about a half mile from where the oily ooze is leaking into the creek.

Hazardous Waste Corrective Action Unit supervisor Walter Avramenko said more tests are needed to confirm the break is the source…

The EPA also has launched comprehensive water and soil sampling along Sand Creek and the South Platte. The first lab results from earlier tests are expected this afternoon, and EPA contractor said.

First responders are still using vapor monitors that indicate an ongoing need for respirators.

Meawhile Reuters Africa is reporting the Suncorp says they’ve stanched the leak. Here’s an excerpt:

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…

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…

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…

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 they pose.

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 applicable standards.”

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.”

More coverage from Anthony Swift writing for the Switchboard. From the article:

The spill was discovered on Sunday morning by Trevor Tanner, a fisherman who saw sheen on the South Platte River and said the area smelled like a gas station. In his account:

“I walked several hundred feet up Sand-Creek and there was an oil sheen the whole way and there was even a weird milky chocolaty sludge trapped in the small back-eddy below the confluence. My fly smelled like gasoline. My fingers smelled like gasoline. I could see micro-currents and upwells in the water column that you usually just can’t see. Something was terribly wrong.”

When Mr. Tanner found the hotline number and called it, the spill response coordinator initially wanted him to call back in twenty minutes. On Monday officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) arrived onsite and Suncor reported a leak. On Tuesday evening Suncor and EPA officials decided to dig a trench. This afternoon, EPA officials announced that three small booms erected on a bank of Sannd Creek appear to be containing the oil and preventing further contamination.

More coverage from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. Here’s an excerpt:

Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates linked the spill, which is now being investigated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to the recent announcement by Anadarko Petroleum that up to a billion barrels of oil may be recoverable in the Wattenberg Field over the Niobrara Shale formation in Weld County.

WRA officials are concerned that the Suncor spill into Sand Creek north of Denver has already made it into the South Platte, which is a major water source for Colorado’s Front Range. Stepped up drilling by Anadarko and other companies in the state’s most populous areas could have similar consequences, the group argues.

“Municipal water systems are designed to treat bacteria and pathogens, but not hydrocarbons like those that might come from an oil refinery,” said Drew Beckwith, WRA’s water policy manager. “That’s not to say that the water can’t be kept safe, but we need to consider the potential consequences before something like this happens on a larger scale. The potential for problems becomes exponentially greater as drilling moves closer to population centers.”

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More coverage from the Environmental News Service. Here’s an excerpt:

Suncor is the oldest of the tar sands producers; up to 90 percent of its production is derived from tar sands bitumen. Suncor recently upgraded the Commerce City facility so it could refine more heavy tar sands crude coming in from northern Alberta, Canada via the Express and Platte pipelines.

The extent of the contamination is still unclear, said Mogerman, who says much of the spill could be escaping the booms set out to contain it. “If the leak involves tar sands diluted bitumen, the contamination could be more severe,” he said. “Tar sands diluted bitumen spills are associated with significantly more submerged oil, which cannot be contained by surface booms.”

More oil and gas coverage here and here.

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