• Business Business

Oil giant to pay staggering $10 million penalty in rare settlement with state: 'The community should feel that we are ... holding them accountable'

It's important that promises don't become boilerplate messages with little meaning.

It's important that promises don't become boilerplate messages with little meaning.

Photo Credit: iStock

Suncor Energy, an oil and gas juggernaut from Canada, has impressive goals for planet-friendly operations in the coming decades, including the oft-trumpeted "net-zero emissions by 2050" benchmark. 

The hitch is with its current operations, resulting in toxic fumes and planet-warming gases leaking from the company's Colorado refinery from at least 2019 to 2021.

In response, the state's Department of Public Health & Environment has levied a $10.5 million fine, according to CPR News.

What happened? 

Colorado environmental officials are holding Suncor responsible for hundreds of unpermitted releases of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other cough-worthy pollutants. CPR noted that regulators have linked the fume spouts to power failures at the facility. 

A settlement with Suncor requires the company to use $8 million on improved power reliability, with a project deadline of 2026. The other $2.5 million are penalties, some of which will be used to help communities impacted by the foul air and water contamination. The government is keeping some of the money, as well, all per CPR's report. 

"The community should feel that we are both holding them accountable and addressing and avoiding future additional impacts," Trisha Oeth, director of environmental health and protection for Colorado, said to CPR. 

For Suncor's part, spokesperson Leithan Slade told the news agency that the company will meet the requirements, noting that "the duration of excessive emissions" fell 26% during the past year. 

Why is it important? 

Companies adding sustainability goals to strategic plans is encouraging. But it's important that the promises don't become boilerplate messages with little meaning. ExxonMobil, for example, is working on cleaner energy projects but is also continuing heavy investments in fossil fuels

Suncor was last penalized by Colorado in 2020 — for $9 million — also for air pollution. The agreements with the state require more stringent operational monitoring from the fossil business, with a public alert system for when fumes are released, all per CPR. 

If the company can clean up the pollution releases for good and fulfill the agreements with state regulators, its sustainability goals will hold more promise. 

"We're taking tangible actions to achieve our climate objectives," Suncor's chief sustainability officer, Jon Mitchell, said on the company's website. 

However, many of Suncor's current projects remain entrenched in fossil fuels. 

What's the solution? 

Mostly everyone can play a role in making sure companies keep their planet-friendly promises. Understanding greenwashing and how some businesses oversell their commitments are ways to ensure you buy from brands that are sincere with messaging. 

Simply buying products that use sustainable packaging is a way to encourage cleaner investments from companies as large as Coors and Coca-Cola. 

Join our free newsletter for cool news and actionable info that makes it easy to help yourself while helping the planet.

Cool Divider