Colorado Oil Leak: Suncor tar sands refinery leaks crude into South Platte River
Originally published on the NRDC Switchboard.
Written by Anthony Swift
Colorado officials fear that vast amounts of petroleum have been leaking into the South Platte River from a broken pipeline at a refinery operated by tar sands producer Suncor. It is not yet clear how long oil has been leaking into the South Platte River, how much has been spilled or what substance was spilled. State officials are currently testing the water on the South Platte River, a major source of drinking water, wildlife habitat and agricultural water for Colorado and the Midwest. Meanwhile, levels of benzene and volatile organic compounds at the nearby Denver Metro Wastewater plant required a partial closure. Suncor is the oldest tar sands producers, up to 90% of its production comprised of tar sands bitumen. The company uses its Colorado refinery to process some of the heavy tar sands coming from the Express and Platte pipelines. At a time when companies like TransCanada and Enbridge are proposing to build tar sands infrastructure through our rivers and water resources—and some in Congress are trying to speed up the process by skipping environmental review—this spill provides another sad example of what can go wrong with these projects.
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….
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