Suncor Refinery Informational Updates

Adams County recently collaborated with the City of Commerce City, the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, and the Tri-County Health Department to submit a list of recommendations to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) of what CDPHE should do to reduce emissions from the Suncor refinery. Each local government submitted comments during the public comment period required for Title V permits, as well as in advance of a hearing with the Air Quality Control Commission.

Table 1 contains recommendations that are specific to the Title V air quality permit for Plant 2 that is currently under review. Table 2 includes recommendations that are beyond the scope of permitting and would require new state-level policy or enforcement actions.

Table 1

Recommendations within the authority of the Colorado Title V Program

CDPHE should require Suncor to develop a compliance plan and schedule: CDPHE has the authority under Colorado’s Air Quality Regulations, specifically AQCC 5 CCR 1001-5 (Regulation 3), Part C, III.C.8 and III.C.9, to require that Suncor develop a plan and schedule of specific actions to bring the refinery into compliance with current air quality regulations.

CDPHE should require Suncor to quantify pollution from excess emissions events and make the reports and data easily accessible to the public on the APCD’s website. This should be defined in the permit and require at least the following:

  • Timely, accurate, and transparent reporting
  • Mass emissions calculated in pounds per hour
  • 12 month rolling totals of annual excess emissions to date
  • In the case where an emissions event is similar to a past event, the report should document why the past corrective action failed

CDPHE should require a stronger root cause investigation (RCI) report and outcomes included in the permit through source-specific implementation schedules: As an outcome of the March 2020 Compliance Order on Consent enforcement settlement, Suncor was required by CDPHE to perform a “root cause” investigation to determine the root causes of emission exceedances from four sources: two (2) the fluid catalyst cracking units (FCCU) and two (2) sulfur recovery units (SRU).

Suncor’s RCI recommended installation of upgraded automated FCCU unit shutdown capabilities in both Plant 1 and Plant 2. Outside of this emergency shutdown equipment, no other design or equipment improvements will be made to refinery because of the RCI. However, the RCI also recommends several improvements related to safety protocols, staff training, and escalation procedures.

Overall, these results do not meet the requirements set by the Compliance Order on Consent. In addition to recommending an improved emergency shutdown system and staff training, an RCI should contain details such as describing the excess emission event(s), the potential causes, and countermeasures including, but not limited to:

  • equipment specific data trending,
  • process control logic, and
  • automatic switchover to alternative processes or equipment shutdown.

The RCI did not document the root causes of specific emission events from FCCU or SRU due to process design, equipment malfunction, or operational procedures. We recommend the refinery complete a more thorough RCI report detailing each type of excess emission event and how they can be avoided in the future. If this level analysis was not conducted and cannot be documented at this time, we recommend the RCI be conducted again with more oversight by CDPHE.

The outcome of RCI recommendations should be a schedule to complete the improvements written into the operating permit.

CDPHE should use its authority to require fenceline air quality monitoring in the communities surrounding the refinery, specifically for carbon monoxide (CO), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrous oxides (NOx), and particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10).
CDPHE should conduct emissions modeling specific to the entire Suncor complex. Dispersion modeling that estimates Clean Air Act criteria pollutant impacts outside of the refinery’s fenceline has never been performed for the entire facility. While past permitting actions have not triggered facility-wide modeling, the CDPHE can require dispersion modeling at any time to ensure the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for criteria pollutants such as NO2, SO2, CO, PM10 and PM2.5 are met from refinery emissions. This modeling should focus on the NO2 1-hour and SO2 1-hour NAAQS.
CDPHE should combine Suncor’s two operating permits into one covering the entire complex. Applying consistent requirements in one permit on similar types of equipment between Plant 2 and Plants 1&3 would greatly facilitate transparency and accurate compliance determinations of this source by Suncor, the Division, and other interested parties such as local governments. It would also create one Operating Permit renewal cycle for the refinery instead of continually having two Operating Permits on different renewal timelines.

Table 2

Recommendations outside the current authority of the Colorado Title V Program. These would have to be addressed through Air Quality Control Commission (AQCC) rulemakings, future CDPHE compliance settlements, or other action by CDPHE

Minor Modifications Should Trigger Tighter Emission Controls

To date, improvements to the refinery have been conducted at a scale small enough to avoid triggering major modification air quality standards under federal rules. Examples include several independent modifications for feedstock with high sulfur content and VOC emission calculation changes over time that should be reviewed in total. AQCC and CDPHE should develop additional regulatory measures that require the refinery to undergo more extensive evaluation(s) and set lower thresholds to trigger tighter emission controls when minor modifications are made to the facility.

Minimize Flaring

AQCC and CDPHE should pursue increased emission controls on flaring, specifically with higher required destruction efficiencies and implementation of flaring minimization plans. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District and South Coast Air Quality Management District both have existing regulations to require such plans.

Convene a Refinery-Specific Stakeholder group and Request a Rulemaking

The AQCC should charge the CDPHE to lead a stakeholder group to provide a set of policy recommendations for future refinery-specific air quality rulemakings. The stakeholder group can focus on process control recommendations and guidance (root cause, failure effects, fault tree analysis, etc.) and bring best practice examples from other refineries to reduce emission impacts.

Once the stakeholder process is complete, the AQCC should request a rulemaking to consider adding refinery-specific requirements to Colorado Air Quality Regulations. Rulemaking is a process the state uses to establish enforceable emission reduction strategies, but this does not yet exist at the state level for the refining sector. The Suncor refinery alone generates 2.1% of Colorado's GHG emissions.

Strengthen Nuisance Provisions

The AQCC and CDPHE should strengthen requirements for facilities that have multiple nuisance violations or confirmed complaints, especially with odor.

Conduct Air Toxics Assessments

A refinery assessment of a broader range of air pollutants called air toxics should be performed, and the regulated list of hazardous air pollutants in Colorado Air Quality Regulation 3 should be revised as necessary. This assessment should include a health risk analysis conducted in the communities living near the refinery.

What you can do:

  • Submit written comments. Submit the comments in advance of the AQCC’s next monthly meeting on August 18th. Comments can be emailed to cdphe.aqcc-comments@state.co.us. Public comments submitted on this permit action so far are available on CDPHE’s website.
  • Provide oral comments. Oral comments can also be presented at these meetings, but advanced registration is required. Visit the AQCC website for details on how to register.
  • You can also write to your state representative and state senator asking that they submit comments as well. To find out who your state representative and senators are, go here.