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Suncor to bring portion of refinery back online as Coloradans continue to face high gas prices

Suncor says it will bring portion of refinery back online
Suncor says it will bring portion of refinery back online 02:56

Suncor says it will soon restart one of three plants in its refinery that produce a big part of the gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel used in Colorado.

It will take days to get the plant up and running and more time to put fuel into circulation, but it should take some pressure off the supply crunch that has pushed prices in Colorado to some of the highest in the nation. 

The average price in Colorado is now at $3.94 a gallon. That's more than $0.50 higher than the national average. Colorado is often, but not always, below the national average.

The refinery had shut down operations for repairs after December's cold snap caused damage. Two workers were hurt in a fire on Christmas Eve.

"You know it's like taking 40% of the grocery stores out of the market," said Grier Bailey, executive director for the Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketers, which represents wholesale fuel distributors serving about 2,200 gasoline stations across the state. 

He added, "we have an obligation to make sure that we're doing everything in the right way. I can pretty much tell you that if this had happened during the summer months the impact would have been a lot, lot worse."

That's when there is increased demand in the summer driving season and gasoline in Colorado is reformulated to a summer blend to help cut down on pollution. 

Receiving out-of-state supplies would be more difficult. As it was, Colorado had to relax requirements on trucking to get enough fuel into the state to meet demand. 

"Really it comes down to a guy in a truck. And we're very thankful for those guys," Bailey said.

Suncor says it still hopes to have all three of its plants back up and running by the end of March. 

Just filling some of the gaps in supply will ease the pressure, but not necessarily the prices at the pump. 

By the time it gets to filling stations, there will be other issues says AAA's regional director of public affairs, Skyler McKinley. 

"We see some seasonal spike around that time as folks travel for Spring Break, then we look ahead to the summer driving season." Prices typically rise in summer. There are still supply and demand issues due to the war in Ukraine and other pressures," he said.

He continued saying, "2022 was historically expensive as a function of Russian oil being taken off the global market. We're still going to see tremors of that in 2023 but it looks like it's going to be an expensive summer even if we're back at full refining capacity in Colorado."

It's also likely to get worse next year. 

Continued failures to meet ozone standards along the Front Range means fuels may change during the summer of 2024 when the Reid vapor pressure, which gauges the pressure and volatility of fuel will have to be decreased by law in an attempt to lower pollution levels.

"There are price increases that are due to environmental fuel blends that are going to be hitting that are EPA required," said Bailey, who believes it could add forty cents a gallon to the cost of fuels. "Consumers really shouldn't expect prices that occurred before the kind of the supply shortage until maybe September, October next year."

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