Trench Built to Stop Leak Flow

Tuesday, February 14, 2012 @ 05:02 PM gHale

Suncor Energy crews are working on a collector trench, trying to stop the black gunk flowing from under its refinery north of Denver from reaching Burlington Ditch, Sand Creek and the South Platte River.

Suncor reached an access agreement last week with Metro Wastewater, which is adjacent to the refinery.

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The goal is to prevent more petroleum-based contaminants from reaching the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District’s property and the waterways, said John Gallagher, Suncor’s vice president for refining.

On Jan. 23, the state health department reported liquid hydrocarbons were in the water table at the southwest corner of the refinery property, near its boundary with Republic Paperboard Co. This suggested contaminants already detected on the Metro Wastewater property had begun to seep in from another direction and threatened the Burlington Ditch.

The health department ordered indoor air-quality monitoring at Republic Paperboard and mitigation of the new migration of the petroleum-related contamination.

Gallagher said the trench should be ready to go by the end of the month. The company also is working to complete an underground clay wall at the refinery to block toxic material from leaving the Suncor property, which been in action since the 1930s.

“We’ll do everything we can to make this situation right,” Gallagher said.

On Nov. 28, a fly-fisherman noticed an oily sheen and bad smell on the Platte. Environmental Protection Agency investigators found a substance oozing into Sand Creek and eventually the river, which is the main water source for northeastern Colorado and the Denver area. Tests showed benzene, ethyl benzene, toluene and xylene — chemicals found in petroleum — had reached the waterways.

Gallagher said Suncor’s first responsibility is to protect existing waterways, then keep “material” from leaving the Suncor property. “We don’t believe we have a leak at this time,” he said.

Steve Frank, spokesman for the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, said the district has hired an environmental-consulting firm to help it monitor the situation.

Warren Smith, community-involvement manager for the state’s hazardous-materials and waste-management division, said they will pump out and treat any groundwater collected in the trench.

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