Breaking News
More () »

Suncor's most recent 'vapor release' follows 38 permit violations reported in single month

Suncor said blamed "abnormally cold" December temperatures for "a series of operational issues."

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — When Lucy Molina's phone buzzed Tuesday morning, she thought, "What now?"

It was another alert from Suncor's Commerce City Refinery, which is responsible for processing a huge portion of Colorado's gasoline. Molina has grown accustomed to such notifications, particularly over the last month. 

As it did Tuesday morning, the initial alert often reads: "Refinery personnel are responding to an incident. While you may have heard an alarm or may see smoke, no immediate action is needed." 

Molina wants the alerts to contain more information about exactly what is happening at the facility. "No immediate action," she questioned. "OK, then what are they responding to?"

Two hours later, Suncor followed up with another notification explaining the issue was a vapor leak that happened during maintenance.

"Operations immediately responded, and the leak was quickly contained," the second alert said. "Our new fence line monitoring system indicated below detection levels during this event for all compounds measured."

A spokesperson couldn't tell 9NEWS what type of vapor was actually released. 

"What are we breathing? Did they emit some more?" Molina asked. 

She has reason to worry. In its latest monthly report, Suncor said it violated environmental permit conditions 38 times, often after sending a similar vague notification. In those cases, the company said the independent air quality monitoring it pays for did not detect pollutants at levels that could cause health effects. 

The report, which catalogues so-called "permit exceedance events" from December 15, 2022, to January 15, 2022, said most of the emissions occurred due to a refinery shutdown after cold weather and a fire that injured two workers in late December. 


In all, Commerce City said the refinery has been out of compliance, emitting pollutants for more than 10,000 hours from 2018 to 2022. 

Molina suspects health issues she, her family and her neighbors have faced are partially because of the refinery's emissions. "They make billions and we are the ones that are impacted by these health issues," she said.

The Suncor spokesperson said safety is the company's first priority. She said the refinery conducts a "critical assessment" when an incident occurs and determines whether it needs to alert neighbors to take action or not. 

Molina wishes those alerts detailed more about what exactly was happening at the facility so she didn't have to wait for the once-a-month report to determine what was released into the air she breathes.

SUGGESTED VIDEOS: Full Episodes of Next with Kyle Clark

Before You Leave, Check This Out