At approximately 10:00 AM on April 26th an explosion, followed by two fires,
struck the Husky Energy Oil Refinery located in Superior WI. In today’s
post, the refinery explosion lawyer at the
Doan Law Firm presents an update to that post based on the
initial findings of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB).
The Explosion at Husky Energy Oil Refinery
previously discussed, on Thursday, April 26th of this year the Huskey Energy oil refinery in
Superior WI was preparing for a 5-week shutdown for scheduled maintenance
and/or facility upgrade when it was rocked, at about 10:00 AM, by an explosion
and fire in the immediate area of that explosion. This fire was extinguished
by refinery employees and units of the City of Superior Fire Department.
At that time, it was felt that no declaration of an emergency was necessary.
According to an article by Forum News Service that was carried by the
Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN)
Pioneer Press a second fire, accompanied by several explosions, created clouds of thick
smoke that were observed as carrying several miles beyond the refinery.
These clouds prompted the City of Superior to issue a mandatory evacuation
order for areas within 2 1/2-mile radius north of the refinery and within
a rectangular area 10 miles south of the refinery, based on the direction
that the wind was blowing after the second explosions and fires.
After overnight air samplings by the Environmental Protection Agency detected
only trace amounts of atmospheric contamination from smoke originating
from the refinery, the mandatory evacuation order was lifted as of 6:00
AM Friday (April 27th).
Preliminary investigation report
Note that our initial blog post was based on information gathered from
local and regional news sources in the hours after the explosion and fire.
Discrepancies between these reports and the later findings by on-scene
CSB investigators could be explained by the fact that these news media
did not have access to the Husky refinery. Content provided by the author
of this blog, in addition to that of the CSB’s preliminary findings,
is contained within “[“and “]” symbols.
According to its initial findings, the CSB presented the following facts
based on observations made by its investigators:
- “The refinery was preparing to enter a [planned] 5-week maintenance
turnaround, during which time equipment is shut down so that it can be
opened, inspected, and repaired as needed. The explosion occurred at approximately
10 a.m. CDT. The initial explosion caused property damage and loss of
containment [puncture] of an asphalt tank. The contents of the tank spilled
out and the material combusted [caught fire].”
- “The initial explosion took place within the refinery’s Fluid
Catalytic Cracking, or FCC, unit. The FCC unit “cracks” heavy,
high boiling point hydrocarbon molecules [crude oil] into smaller molecules
with lower boiling points. The main product produced by the FCC unit is
- “The explosion created a large amount of debris which was scattered
in and around the refinery complex. This debris is being collected and
stored for future analysis as needed.”
Again, the author of this post admits that the preliminary findings of
the CSB are just that:
preliminary, and subject to change in the CSB’s final report. Also, the CSB
preliminary report is for use by that agency only and may, or may not,
be used by other federal agencies such as the Occupational Health and
Safety Administration. This is understandable since federal agencies are
limited by law as to their jurisdictions and, thus, their investigational
authority over different factors that may have contributed to an industrial
accident. However, it is known that at least one chemical used in Fluid
Catalytic Cracking Units is dangerous to humans:
Hydrofluoric acid is commonly used in Fluid Catalytic Cracking Units at
not only the Husky Superior refinery, but at refineries nationwide. According
to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) most industrial
exposure to occurs when a victim’s skin is exposed to contact with
its liquid form ( hydrofluoric acid) or by inhalation of its active ingredient
in its gaseous form, hydrogen fluoride, which is regarded to be the more-dangerous
type of exposure.
Exposure to hydrofluoric acid can result in a chemical burn injury to the
skin and, less commonly, injury to a victim’s eyes by either direct
“splash” contact or by exposure to its gaseous component,
hydrogen fluoride gas. More seriously, hydrogen fluoride gas exposure
can cause chemical burns to the upper respiratory or, more importantly,
to the lungs themselves. Chemical burns of the respiratory system can
be very difficult to treat since hydrogen fluoride gas becomes hydrofluoric
acid when it encounters the moisture normally present in the trachea and lungs.
The role of a refinery explosion accident lawyer
Fortunately, the explosion and fires at the Husky Superior refinery produced
relatively minor or non-life-threatening injuries to plant personnel and
no injuries to anyone outside the refinery’s boundaries. Unfortunately,
this is not always the case.
Anyone who has been injured by a refinery accident such as a chemical release,
explosion, or fire is invited to contact the
refinery explosion lawyer at the Doan Law Firm to arrange a free, no obligation, review of the facts
in your refinery accident case. Since our free case review does not obligate
you to hire our firm, you are free to hire a law firm of your own choosing
to represent your injury case. If you should decide that we should manage
your refinery accident injury case, we are willing to assume all responsibility
in preparing your case for trial in exchange for a percentage of the settlement
that we will win for you.