Hydrogen Fluoride Use at Husky

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Duluth News Tribune

Husky Will Continue Use of Hydrogen Fluoride

In an announcement posted to its website Wednesday morning, the Calgary-based oil company said it would continue to use the potentially dangerous chemical in the refining process at its Superior refinery, but would add additional safety features.

The evacuations during the April 26 explosion and fire were based on hydrogen fluoride release concerns, but no hydrogen fluoride was released during the incident.

Storage tanks damaged by fire frame several refining towers at the Husky Energy refinery in Superior. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com

Storage tanks damaged by fire frame several refining towers at the Husky Energy refinery in Superior. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com

Hydrogen fluoride, which is used in the process to create high-octane gasoline, can cause death from irregular heartbeat or from fluid buildup in the lungs when inhaled at high levels or in combination with skin contact.

In the year since the explosion and fire, Twin Ports residents, local and federal officials have voiced concerns over the refinery’s use of hydrogen fluoride and have urged Husky to use alternative chemicals, like sulfuric acid.

Husky Chief Operating Officer Rob Symonds said the company studied converting from hydrogen fluoride to sulfuric acid but said that it wouldn’t pursue it because it would require swapping out undamaged equipment with new equipment and near-daily truckloads of sulfuric acid as opposed to a yearly shipment of hydrogen fluoride. Symonds said Husky also looked at IsoAlky as an alternative but said it has not yet been used commercially.

Asked if a conversion away from hydrogen fluoride was ruled out due to its high cost, Symonds said: “Cost is one (factor), but we never actually got to detailed cost analysis.”

He added later: “There are a lot of reasons before you get to cost.”

While no hydrogen fluoride was released during the incident and the fire never reached the hydrogen fluoride, which was 150 feet away from the fluid catalytic cracking unit — the location of the explosion — shrapnel from the explosion was flung 200 feet, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board said in an Aug. 2 factual update in Superior.

A News Tribune investigation found the chemical threatens a 25-mile radius surrounding the refinery under a worst-case release scenario. The April 26 evacuations were based on the risk of a hydrogen fluoride release.

By phone Wednesday afternoon, Superior Mayor Jim Paine told the News Tribune that “It’s disappointing, I was hoping they would meaningfully pursue a safer alternative,” Paine said.

In the days following the Husky explosion and fire, both Paine and Duluth Mayor Emily Larson called on Husky to

Continue to read this article on the Superior Telegram.