Superior, Duluth mayors call on refinery to end use of dangerous chemical

The mayors of Superior, Wisconsin and Duluth, Minnesota are calling on Husky Energy to stop using a dangerous chemical following an explosion and resulting fire at an oil refinery last week. 

More than a dozen people were injured and thousands of residents had to evacuate when the Husky Energy oil refinery in Superior went up in flames last Thursday. The explosion sparked concerns from many in the community about the refinery’s use of hydrogen fluoride. 

Hydrogen fluoride is an acid used to turn crude oil into gasoline. It is also used to make other products like florescent light bulbs, plastics and refrigerants. 

The investigator in charge of the chemical safety board said 44 of the 141 refineries in the country use hydrogen fluoride. If it touches skin, it can cause a rash or serious burns. However, if anyone inhales the chemical, it can cause damage to lung tissue and cause fluid to build up in the lungs. 

That’s why mayors of Superior and Duluth have asked Husky Energy to stop using the chemical in their oil refining process. 

Tuesday, Superior Mayor Jim Paine asked the heads of Husky to stop using hydrogen fluoride and convert to safer products. 

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson also called on Husky Energy to “publicly commit to eliminating hydrogen fluoride from their oil refining process.” 

“I consider last week’s explosion at the Husky oil refinery as a clear call to action,” Larson said in a Facebook post

Paine said he asked Husky to “disclose all of the safety measures they had and still have in place that prevent this chemical from harming the public, as well as any other relevant facts regarding [hydrogen fluoride] so that the public can remain informed during this debate,” according to a news release. 

U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) is conducting an investigation into the cause of the explosion and resulting fire, Paine said. CSB will also investigate any environmental impacts and the city’s emergency response. 

CSB may issue recommendations to Husky Energy, the City of Superior and other state and federal agencies on how to prevent a future disaster, but the final report could take up to a year to complete. 

Husky Energy intends to rebuild and operate the oil refinery. Going forward, the company told Paine they are committed to an “open and ongoing relationship with the people of Superior.” 

The company plans to reimburse residents and business for expenses related to the refinery explosion. Approximately 170 claims related to the fire have already been submitted, Paine said.