Husky Energy Announces Rebuild of Superior Refinery

Continued use of controversial chemical Hydrogen Flouride facing backlash.

SUPERIOR, Wis.- Nearly a year after the explosion at Husky Energy Refinery, the company announced their plans for a $400 million rebuild, expected to create 350 jobs at its peak.

However, the plan to continue using the controversial chemical Hydrogen Fluoride (HF) in the Refinery’s operations, is raising some eyebrows.

Investigations found the initial explosion took place in the Fluid Catalytic Cracking Unit.

Company leaders said they are taking measures to prevent that from happening again.

“The passing of the slide valve that pressure allows,” said Chief Operating Officer Rob Symonds. “We will have some additional valving that assures that that could not happen. So some physical barriers to prevent that going forward.”

Symonds is aware of the skepticism surrounding hydrogen fluoride use.

He said they looked into alternatives, namely Sulfuric Acid.

“There’s never been a conversion for a refinery that’s been running hydrogen fluoride to run sulfuric acid,” he said.

“It’s not a simple matter as you just take out one acid and you just add another one.”

He said sulfuric acid is less energy efficient and requires more truck use, while a newer technology, called ISOALKY, is too new and untested to try.

Still, the potential dangers of hydrogen fluoride still worry people like Duluth Mayor Emily Larson, who was outspoken against the use of HF in the past.

She released a statement on Wednesday which reads in part:

“I am incredibly disappointed that Husky has chosen to continue using hydrogen fluoride in its Superior refinery. Currently, their use of this chemical threatens people within a 25–mile radius as Husky operates a refinery within a population district of well over 130,000 people, which includes Duluth. I recognize that alternatives to hydrogen fluoride may be more complicated, and more expensive, but those reasons pale in comparison to the potential devastation this choice can cause.”

We also reached out to Superior Mayor Jim Paine, who joined Mayor Larson in calling for the elimination of hydrogen fluoride, but he did not respond to our request for comment.

According to Symonds, people should trust Husky is taking extra safety measures with the chemical.

“While what we have has proven to be safe for the last 60 years it’s been running here in the refinery, we looked at and said ‘what additional safety features make sense?’ And we’re installing all of those.”

An open house to learn more about the rebuild is scheduled for April 16 at Superior Middle School .

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