SUPERIOR, WI–Husky Refinery officials say plans to rebuild after the April 2018 fire and explosion at their Superior facility include the ongoing use of the chemical hydrogen fluoride.
According to a news release issued on Wednesday, Husky officials said the $400 million rebuild project will include additional modifications and safety enhancements to the facility, including safety measures directly related to the use of hydrogen fluoride.
“A conversion from HF to sulfuric is not as simple of a matter of changing out the acid in the unit,” said COO Rob Symonds.
Symonds said they evaluated a switch to sulfuric acid, a safer alternative, but says it wasn’t feasible.
“It’s also never been done. There’s never been a conversion from HF to sulfuric,” he said.
Although the HF tank was never compromised during last April’s event, it was within striking distance of flying shrapnel as a result of a slide valve malfunction.
“We’re also looking to build some engineering ‘catch fences’ if you will to catch shrapnel around certain critical units around the plant.”
The April 26, 2018 fire was reportedly 150-feet from a hydrogen fluoride tank. While the risk of hydrogen fluoride flammability is low, experts say there could have been a danger if the tank were to be punctured by a bit of shrapnel, which could then release a cloud of toxic gas.
While Husky officials say there was no release of hydrogen fluoride during last year’s fire and “all safeguards worked as designed,” last summer, some Twin Ports community members called on Husky and Superior city officials to reconsider the use of hydrogen fluoride on site.
“The Superior Refinery has safely used HF for almost 60 years. We understand the community’s concerns about the ongoing use of HF and all of those who work at the refinery and live in the community are aware of the need to maintain the highest safety standards,” Husky officials wrote in a news release.
With regulatory approval, Husky officials say some of the new safety measures would include:
-A Rapid Acid Transfer System, that can be activated in the event of a leak to quickly transfer HF into an independent secure holding tank.
-Additional layers of water mitigation. The Superior Refinery currently has a water system that includes a dedicated curtain for the HF tank and two water cannons, which are a highly effective method of addressing hydrofluoric acid vapors. Additional curtains, pumps and water cannons are being proposed.
-Enhanced leak detection, including a dedicated area laser detection system and additional cameras.
“We do all of those things, we looked at the alternatives, and we said, ‘on balance we think adding things to what is already a safe system is the right answer,’ and that’s the proposal we have to regulators at this time,” said Symonds.
“HF is used to produce high octane gasolines which are an integral part of the refinery’s product mix and economic viability,” Husky officials wrote. “As part of the rebuild engineering and design phase, alternative alkylation options to HF were considered. This analysis included technology reviews, risk assessments, discussions with subject matter experts.”
The plant was also hit with 13 safety violations and fined $83,000 by OSHA.
Symonds said, “The mechanical changes we are making within the refinery will fully handle those OSHA issues.”
Symonds says they will continue to review new technologies and safety features for the facility in the future.
Demolition work is currently underway at the Superior facility. Construction is expected to begin this fall, pending regulatory approvals. Partial operations are expected to resume in late 2020.
Husky officials say the project is expected to create 350 jobs at peak during construction, adding that they hope to employ local contractors and services whenever possible.
The rebuilt facility will also be more energy efficient and in full compliance with state and federal regulations, according to the news release.
The community is invited to an open house from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 16 at Superior Middle School to learn more about the rebuild plans and timelines.