Denver Oil Refinery Could Be Killing Us All

The Suncor oil refinery in Denver spews yellow smoke in this photo from late 2016.

Bruce Finley of the Denver Post reports on some positively-terrifying news about an oil refinery in North Denver:

Suncor Energy’s oil refinery is spewing 8.5 tons a year of invisible hydrogen cyanide gas over low-income north Denver neighborhoods, state records show.

Community groups in Globeville, Swansea and Elyria this week petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to require Colorado health officials to set a limit that protects people and at least require Suncor to disclose emissions of the gas to local emergency responders.

CDPHE air quality control officials in January approved a change to Suncor’s air pollution permit that exempts the company from a federal requirement to disclose hydrogen cyanide emissions. The officials set an emissions limit of 12.8 tons a year — higher than the 8.5 tons Suncor reported it emits — for the purpose of letting Suncor use a legal loophole that lets companies with permitted limits avoid disclosure of those emissions, a state document shows.

The Suncor facility releases 8.5 tons per year of CYANIDE FUCKING GAS into the air just north of downtown Denver. If you aren’t familiar with “hydrogen cyanide,” this single paragraph sums up just about everything you need to know:

Hydrogen cyanide is a colorless gas smelling faintly of almonds that at high exposure levels attacks the brain and heart, causing rapid breathing, convulsions and loss of consciousness, according to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Lower level exposures are linked to breathing trouble, headaches and enlarged thyroid glands. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established under the 1997 global Chemical Weapons Convention, classifies hydrogen cyanide as a chemical weapon. [Pols emphasis]

By comparison, the Post reports that the only other source of hydrogen cyanide in Colorado is from a Pueblo plant that produces aircraft parts. State records show that the Goodrich Corporation plant releases 942 pounds of hydrogen cyanide into the air every year — about 17 times less than what belches out of the Suncor facility in Denver.

Officials from both the EPA and CDPHE declined to discuss the Suncor emissions with the Post, but that silence probably won’t last long. Public perception of the oil and gas industry shifted significantly after last year’s deadly explosion of a house in Firestone, and this news is certain to prompt a whole new wave of criticism and concern. For political candidates like Republican gubernatorial hopeful Walker Stapleton, this is not a good time to be declaring your undying support for the fossil fuels industry.

49 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. RepealAndReplace says:

    But it's good for our jobs-friendly economy……..


  2. Duke Cox says:

    Anyone who believes anything said by an oil and gas company is a naive fool.

    Dishonesty and subterfuge are just tools of the trade. Right, Gov. Frackenlooper?

  3. Voyageur says:

    This may come as a surprise, but millions of us now living in metro denver are NOT DEAD.  So in a couple months, when the current panic subsides, how about reporting what the safe limits for exposure to hydrogen cynanide are and what percentage of that exposure is emitted by the refinery.  Eight tons in eight million tons of air would be one part per million and quite safe.

    • Diogenesdemar says:

      I guess we’ll never know for sure . . .

      . . . since CDPHE conveniently let Suncor off the hook of having to report its emissions . . . 

      . . . which is kind of the point of the diary, I think?!

      (BTW — that really fucking stinks, don’t ya’ think?)

      • Voyageur says:

        The point of the diary is that we're doomed to a horrible death because an oil refinery is "killing us all., " 

        • ParkHill says:

          Lots of cigarette smokers are still alive, so all that fuss about cigarettes causing cancer is a bunch of liberal whining.

          And, cars don't kill people, bad drivers kill people. So, we don't need no stinkin' seatbelts, nor should we require car makers to design steering columns that break away, rather than crushing your ribs. It isn't the car's fault, so why regulate car makers!?

          And 2/3 of the Great Barrier Reef is still alive, so we don't need to cut back on CO2 emissions.

          And, I'm a total hypocrite because I oppose pollution but I don't have an electric car.

          Medicine, Science and Math are just so darned complicated, I'm going to go watch sports or the Voice, or facebook.

        • ardy3 says:

          Not "is" but "could be." 

          Of course, it may depend on your meaning of "is." 

          And not “doomed” but placed at unnecessary and unknown risk.

          • Voyageur says:

            Doomed, we is, because a refinery is emitting nearly two- thirds of a pollutant that the Colorado Department of Health and Environment said was safe.

            Doomed, I tell you. We're all going to die!

            It may take 75 more years,but we will die, and solely because evil people put gas in the tanks of our SUVs with their "No war for oil" stickers.

            Doomed, I tell you!  Doomed!

            • mamajama55 says:

              OK, the headline was clickbait. But the bad stats are real, at least for those unfortunate enough to live in the 80216 zip code. It is the most polluted neighborhood in the country, according to Realty Trac, Business Journal, and the Denver Post of 2/16/17. (articles behind paywalls or inaccessible).

              Residents of Globeville, especially the Swansea and Elyria neighborhoods in 80216,  are exposed to lead and arsenic by living under I70, stink from Purina and the stockyards in season, heavy metals from the superfund sites like the old Asarco smelter,   benzene and hydrogen sulfide, both of which are carcinogenic compounds, and now they get gassed with hydrogen cyanide .

              The petition filed by Earthjustice is just to compel Suncor to be transparent about how much HCN it is emitting. Are you really going to defend Suncor's "right" to hide its emissions from the Colorado Department of Health and from the people affected?


              • Voyageur says:

                Uhhh, the "stats" cited in the article are that the plant emits less than two-thirds of its permitted level.

                Cry Babylon!  Unleash the dogs of war!

                We're all going to die!

              • MichaelBowman says:

                Back in 2008 when we were hosting the DNC (then) Mayor Hickenlooper had ‘green teams’ tasked with making the event carbon neutral. Lots of good came from those efforts but we have one dirty little secret in Denver: we couldn’t draw the boundaries for the offsets and include DIA. The SunCor facility uses Canadian coal tar slurry, which has a really nasty carbon footprint.  Even though DIA is smaller in operations than our largest, Atlanta Hartsfield, our airport carbon footprint far exceeds ATL.  

                I’ve was in meetings a decade ago with those residents when there was a push to shut down the Xcel coal plant there and replace the power with wind (that facility has since been converted to natural gas).  Honestly, their stories were heart-wrenching.  


    • Duke Cox says:

      Safe limits? Sez who? The same government who set this up? Sure, V.  Safe limits, indeed. 

      Metro Denver is immense. I doubt you live within many miles of the place. Ask the folks who live nearby…they have a different take on the subject, I'll wager.

    • The short-term exposure limit for HCN is 4.7ppm over 15 minutes. But if they're not required to report emissions, and emissions are not monitored, we'll never know how many people downwind are exceeding their exposure limits…

    • Davie says:

      V'ger — cough, cough, here is the data given in the article

      CDPHE relied on data Suncor collected in 2015 to calculate hydrogen cyanide air concentrations around the refinery at 5 parts per billion, more than seven times higher than the EPA’s 0.7 ppb risk threshold, records show.

      One part per million would be over 1,000 times above the EPA risk threshold.

      We should get together and discuss this over a glass of fracking fluid 😉

  4. Diogenesdemar says:

    Anyone know where to find a list of gas stations that sell product refined by Suncor?  

    All these fuckers ever listen to is $$$ — maybe it’s time they started hearing from retailers whose customers refuse to buy product produced by an irresponsible company that’s unwilling to report its emissions??

    • Duke Cox says:

      My ex-wife used to drive to a refinery in Commerce City and haul 7,000 gallons of diesel fuel back to Rifle, 5 days a week. Much of the output of those front range refineries goes to the O&G industry. Not subject to boycott.

    • mamajama55 says:

      Suncor stations – there are dozens of them around metro Denver. Many Shell stations are Suncor. Also they bought 150 Phillips 66 stations in the metro area. Suncor appears to be based in Alberta, Canada, and to be one of the top oil sands refiners there ( their oil would be flowing down the Dakota Pipeline)

      I usually don't gas up at Shell stations, anyway – they tend to have the highest prices around.  Phillips 66, the "dinosaur" brand, used to be pretty reasonable, which is probably why Suncor bought them up.

      You're right, Dio, all these fuckers ever listen to is money – so let's start a boycott.

      However, it doesn't do any good to boycott their gas unless you tell Suncor Refinery Corporate HQ why you're boycotting the brand.  So here are some addresses to write to them to advise them why you will not be buying gas from Suncor.

      Canada Head Office:

      Corporate Head Office
      Suncor Energy Inc.
      P.O. Box 2844, 150 – 6 Avenue S.W.
      Calgary, Alberta
      Canada T2P 3E3
      T: 403-296-8000
      F: 403-296-3030

      Denver and Commerce City Offices:

      Suncor Energy USA, Inc. – Corporate Head Office
      717 17th Street, Suite 2900
      Denver, CO 80202
      T: 303-793-8000
      F: 303-793-8003

      Suncor Energy USA Inc. – Commerce City Refinery
      5801 Brighton Boulevard
      Commerce City, Colorado
      80022, U.S.A.
      T: 303-286-5701
      F: 303-286-5702

      And there are two petitions from Earthjustice, the legal counsel for the anti-Suncor activists.

      1 is a regular "everyone sign" petition to show public support of Suncor curbing emissions. I have not included that, as it only leads to a donation page for Earthjustice.

      2 is the legal petition mentioned in the article and post above, to the CO Dept of Health and Environment, to require Suncor to comply with the EPA's directive to disclose its hydrogen cyanide (HCN) emissions. This petition was made by the Cross Community Coalition, a consortium of community organizations. Unicorn Riot covered the hearing and streamed the video here.

      Kids from Swansea, Elyria, and Globeville are affected by the hydrogen cyanide gas. My son's friend Alex, an upbeat, funny kid I was a neighborhood mom to in Highland, died there of heart failure at the age of 35. Hydrogen cyanide gas causes heart and lung problems and birth defects.

      So I'll start a Suncor boycott for Alex.

  5. MADCO says:

    All y'all are thinking about this all wrong.

    If God wanted poor people to have cleaner air, there would be better environmental protection laws.

    Dintcha ever notice how poor neighborhoods cluster around refineries?

    It's God's will

    • mamajama55 says:

      I'm tired of accepting that. Tired of hearing how "these kids can't"… at grade level, reason logically, have impulse control….when these fucking companies like Suncor have been poisoning them since before they could breathe on their own.

      And Suncor's page is full of their so very benevolent community activities – $25 grand for the Boys and Girls Club, etc – . Big deal for the Club, less than an hour's profit for one branch of Suncor.  They consider themselves to be a "green" company – they have a goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2025 or something. Nothing, not a damn thing about any hydrogen cyanide emissions blasting out over Globeville for the last decade.

      Hence the boycott. Fuck "God's will".

      • Voyageur says:

        Good luck with the boycott.  It leaves more for me!😀

      • Duke Cox says:

        I think Mad Cow was kidding…       

        • mamajama55 says:

          I got MC's irony….but that kind of cynical dismissal  is what keeps us stuck.  If we can laugh it off, why try to change it?

          Globeville residents are scared and stuck. A parent of a Swansea 2nd grader, or an elder who moved there 50 years ago would not be amused.

          • MADCO says:

            I'm not amused. Nor ironic. It's not parody. 
            I'm OUTRAGED!!!

            See all caps and three (3!) exclamation points. You must be able to see my outrage.

            Poor people should make better choices.
            #1 – choose rich parents and family.
            I know what you're thinking – why choose rich parents, choose rich grandparents.  But that's ridiculous- once you have parents, they already had parents and those already are your grandparents.

            So – poor people should make better choices.  It's the only possible implication.  

            Last time I was in Oakland, California, just a short walk from the city center, there was a large tent city under the freeway.  Surprising, but just a little. What surprised me was the school bus stops. One at the middle for low grades – bus came at 745m.  One at the end for middle and higher grades. It came at 815.

            I was staying near enough to be there in the morning  – not available to follow or figure out what happened when they got to school.  It broke my heart. But – I've seen worse.
            And what could I do? Nothing.

            Are the neighborhoods you reference better? A house is better than a tent, usually.  Pavement is better than dirt, usually.  I don't know if school buses or public transit is accessible. But I know it's not new. I also know the residents don't all want to go somewhere else. And many don't feel like they can.

            Me insulting the insensitive and apparently indifferent like Voygeur (or BJ) or Walker Stapleton is not useful. But the general indifference or avoidance is implicit in the outcome.

            We need better environmental protection.  What more do you want from me?


            • Duke Cox says:

              My girlfriends daughter is a public school teacher in Oakland. She may very well know some of those kids.

              Life is rough for many people who don't receive royalties. Unlike some O&G apologists we know.

  6. J.D. Ruybal says:

    We The People must elect and hold responsible elected representatives who will REPRESENT The People and are not beholden to Corporate Gods.     Regarding boycotts; Investigate,or better yet, take a tour of the ethanol plant in Windsor. It is worth the time to educate yourself about this fuel (E85) and feed source (distillers grain)  – See:

    Next time you are at the pump you will see a sticker stating this fuel may contain x % ethanol…The fossil fuel industry supplementing their product with ethanol. Can't be all that bad. Think about it.


    • Diogenesdemar says:

      I sometimes wonder at what point in our history, on the acceptability/unacceptability continuum, that “can’t-be-all-bad” got in front of “bad-enough-already”?

    • mamajama55 says:

      I finally have a newer model car that can take the "flex" fueling option to be able to use E85. I think I still need to get a special upgrade to the carburetor, haven't researched it yet.

      But we need both sanctions and accountability for the old fossil fuel processors, and good alternatives such as ethanol and biodiesel. I'm not willing to give up driving or air travel, so  BTU -dense, mobile fuels are a must-keep.

      • Voyageur says:

        Current ethanol, including E-85, is a subsidy to agribusiness.  It is wasteful to make gasoline from food, i.e. Corn.  We should push ahead on cellulosic ethanol — made not from corn but corn stalks, corn cobs, and m.j.'s inexhaustible supply of old protest banners and boycott bumper stickers.

        That is a huge environmental payoff.  The current subsidy is more legal theft by Archer-Daniels-Ponzi.

      • Davie says:

        MJ, in addition to the problem with E85 V'ger mentions, it also can reduce your mileage by up to 30% because it packs less energy per gallon that gasoline.  So the price of E85 would have to be 30% cheaper than regular just to break even.  And, since it burns more fuel per mile than gasoline, the environmental benefits are also questionable.

        But if you want to try E85, check your owner's manual recommended fuel to see if it is compatible, or take a look here:

        If your car was built after 1990 or so, it won't have a carburetor.  It'll be fuel-injected.  The problem with E85 is that it is highly corrosive to various materials used by car manufacturers.  So for E85, they switched to fuel system components made of E85 corrosion-resistant materials.

        • MichaelBowman says:

          The perfect ethanol blend to maximize its octane value and mileage is E-22.  I often make my own blend at the pump if the E85 and regular gas are at the same kiosk. It requires a little math but my superior public education in Yuma County schools has served me well. 

          Most people have forgotten the first E-10 mandate was a brokered policy between O&G and EPA to settle the many MTBE lawsuits in the pipline at that time. A known carcinogen, MTBE was poisoning underground water supplies; agreeing to substitute ethanol gave them a pass on the legal liability of those spills. Today the aromatics (BTX) make up about one-third of gasoline by volume. Those known carcinogens could/should be replaced by ethanol (not derived from corn); a recent Harvard Med study on the health costs of emissions related to BTX exceeded $200 billion annually.  

          Per the overarching ethanol debate/opinions we never ask the right question. 1) the questions should start with, ”should we be growing corn”? In the water-strapped Ogallala region that answer is increasing ”hell no”.  2) any bushel of corn produced that is destined for cattle feed should first go through an ethanol plant. It extracts the starch, converts it to fuel and then the distillers grains are then fed to the cattle, who couldn't utilize the starch in the first place (they poop it out).  So, as long as we’re growing corn and feeding cattle ethanol makes some plausible sense.  3) engine manufacturers could design engines to capitalize on the ethanol’s potential superior performance to gasoline – but they've fought those technologies.  

          There is enough agricultural waste produced in this country every year to produce over 30% of our liquid fuel needs. Pardon the pun, it's literally wasted. 

          You can thank the American Petroleum Institutes lobby for many of those unfortunate policy positions. 

          • Diogenesdemar says:

            Please don’t forget to also thank those politcal representatives who are able to convert their API contributions into useless manure!!!

            Your three points don’t hardly get enough broadcasting.  (Lived my entire life in “cattle country” and never knew that our corn-fed beef was just wasted starch?)

            • MichaelBowman says:

              The distillers grain (the mash left over) is a superior cattle feed and we get the bonus of fuel. We could also squeeze the oil from the mash (about 2% by weight) and Turn that into biodiesel to take back to the farm. The question shouldn’t be whether or not we should make ethanol, it should be what is the origin of the ethanol feedstock.  Maya Angelou said it best: do the best you can with what you know. But when you know better do better”

              We could solve every damn problem we face today with what we know. 

          • Voyageur says:

            The oil and gas lobby deserves a lot of blame, but not all of it.  The Ag ribusiness lobby bows to no one for greed and short-sightedness.

    • MADCO says:


      Ethanol takes more energy to produce than it produces.  It's a net energy suck. 
      Except that it doesn't make me feel less guilty, it would better to leave it int he plant.

      • MichaelBowman says:

        That may have been true 20 years ago; it’s arguably not so today. Don’t take that as an endorsement of the corn-based/monoculture system we have today. The stark reality is that if the ethanol industry didn’t exist we’d still be growing this corn, in large part for export. We could be making a much better/cheaper/environmentally-benign product from agricultural waste and agricultural hemp. 

        Bottom line is American farmers as a bloc could be the largest energy producers on the planet if our public policy was focused on connecting rural policy and domestic energy policy. 

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