Sand Creek: The EPA determines that benzene is present in the gasoline-like substance oozing into the waterway

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Here’s the latest on the spill from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. The Post is running another photo slideshow of the cleanup and one of Suncor contractors. Click through and read the whole article, Mr. Finley provides a history of the refinery and pollution problems there. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

PA lab test results released Thursday evening indicate benzene concentrations ranging from 2,000 parts per billion, where the liquid enters Sand Creek, to 480 ppb, where the creek enters the South Platte River — well above the 5 ppb national drinking-water standard…

No public health warnings have been issued.

Battling snow, freezing temperatures and mud, workers contracted by Suncor and the EPA pushed ahead, digging 50 feet of a trench to be lined with gravel and plastic — to catch and contain the liquid as it seeps from the shoreline, preventing further contamination of the creek and South Platte River. Workers inside “hot zone” boundaries rotated shifts against the cold, using heavy machinery to buttress absorbent booms strung across the creek as currents flowed faster and higher as a result of the snowfall…

The state Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division order requires Suncor to conduct daily inspections along Sand Creek; sample water along the creek; monitor air at the Metro Wastewater plant (for benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylenes) and install ventilation systems if necessary; investigate groundwater contamination under the plant; install by Dec. 31 a system to intercept all liquids entering Sand Creek; and clean up any oil on the banks of Sand Creek and the South Platte by March…

“The contamination is evidently more extensive and mobile than originally believed and conditions in the subsurface may be changing in response to seasonal influences,” [state hazardous materials unit corrective action leader Walter Avramenko] said in the order served Thursday, “all of which may have caused the contamination to express itself in the form of one or more seeps discharging into Sand Creek and vapors intruding into buildings overlying the plume.”

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More coverage from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

“We believe its source is from our refinery,” Suncor Energy refining vice president John Gallagher said this morning. Gallagher said Suncor has developed a plan to mitigate the plume and is working with state and federal agencies.

Thursday afternoon, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued a written order specifying actions the company must take to address on- and offsite contamination.

More coverage from The Los Angeles Times

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials told the Denver Post that the goo, which has been seeping into a local creek for days, contains cancer-causing benzene. Its spread appears to have been contained.

A Suncor Energy refinery near the small plume is responsible for the black muck, the company’s vice president of refining, John Gallagher, told the Associated Press. But Gallagher was unsure of its exact source or components.

More coverage from the Associated Press via CBSNews.com. From the article:

“We were very surprised,” [Hazardous Waste Corrective Action Unit supervisor, Walter Avramenko] said Wednesday of the oily substance seeping into the creek from the refinery, which for decades has been dealing with contamination. “It’s a fairly sizable quantity of oil.”[…]

Avramenko said Suncor reported the leak in a capped section of pipe that comes off a pipeline that runs between a storage tank and the refinery. Suncor Energy Inc.’s vice president of refining, John Gallagher, said a crude oil pipeline to the refinery from Wyoming has been ruled out as a source. He said the company is responsible for the substance leaking into the creek but said it’s “dealing in facts, not speculation” about where it’s coming from…

Gallagher said the refinery produces jet fuel, gasoline, diesel fuel, and asphalt mostly from oil from Colorado and Wyoming. About 10 to 15 percent of the oil refined there comes from oil sands from Canada, Gallagher said, adding that the refinery has been there since 1938 and was designed to handle local crude. The Calgary, Canada-based company has three refineries in Canada and in Commerce City.

State health officials have long known about pools of oil in the ground from the 1980s and 1990s when it was owned by other companies. Avramenko said those former pools of oil had become more tar-like, stable and less likely to move off the refinery grounds. Monitoring wells showed that the groundwater quality had even improved over the years as the refinery pumped groundwater to rid it of contaminates and took other measures as part of a state health department corrective order over contamination.

Last year, Avramenko said monitoring wells detected elevated levels of petroleum contaminates between the creek and an underground barrier wall, called a curtain, that is meant to contain the contamination on refinery grounds. Suncor repaired a corroded outlet pipe on that barrier that was suspected of allowing contaminates to leave the refinery.

But then Suncor reported other anomalies, including an oily sheen on a pond and in a ditch on refinery grounds, as well as an oily sheen in the creek this summer that went away.

More coverage from Reuters via the Calgary Herald. From the article:

A petroleum spill near Suncor Energy’s Denver-area refinery has been contained and does not come from the Canadian oilsands, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Thursday…”We’re not dealing with tarsands here,” EPA spokesman Matthew Allen told Reuters. “It is refined product.”

More coverage from the Associated Press via CBSNews.com. From the article:

State health officials on Thursday ordered Suncor Energy to immediately begin testing the air inside the Denver Metro Wastewater Treatment Plant to ensure worker safety near where a gasoline-like substance from the company’s refinery was detected seeping into Sand Creek earlier this week. Suncor Energy Inc. must test the air for the known carcinogen benzene, as well as suspected carcinogens and other chemicals, and install a ventilation system if high levels are found, according to the order. Suncor must also step up water sampling in the creek and set up a system to recover any petroleum seeping into the creek by Dec. 31.

More coverage from Bloomberg News (Gene Laverty). From the article:

Suncor Energy Inc. has started work on a trench to contain a “gasoline-type” substance that is seeping near its Commerce City, Colorado, refinery. “It’s a more long-term system to capture and contain the seepage,” Karen Edson, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency, said in a telephone interview from the site near Denver. “They’ve virtually contained all the material.”

More coverage along with a video report from 9News.com (Jeffrey Wolf/Eric Kahnert). From the article:

EPA lab results released Thursday evening show benzene concentrations ranging from 2,000 parts per billion around the location of the seep and 480 ppb where the creek enters the South Platte. The national drinking water standard is 5 ppb. Some of the oil did get into the South Platte River.

Suncor says its 60 person emergency response team was able to get the area contained. “We believe we have stopped all of the materials from entering the water ways at this point. The progress we’ve made today, we’ve started building a trench between the diked area, and we’re going to build a trench there for a secondary level of protection,” John Gallagher, Suncor Energy refining vice president, said…

The [Colorado Department of Health and Environment] says it is talking to the Attorney General about possible enforcement action against Suncor over the incident.

More Sand Creek spill coverage here. More oil and gas coverage here and here.

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