Superior Refinery Reopens After 5-Year Hiatus Following Explosion and Fire

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April 24th, 2023

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

A little over five years ago, on April 26th, a major explosion rocked the Husky Energy Refinery in Superior, Wisconsin. The incident injured 36 workers, inflicted $550 million in damages to the facility, and released 39,000 pounds of flammable hydrocarbon vapor into the atmosphere, requiring the evacuation of over 2,500 people from their homes.

Refinery reopens after explosion
Superior explosion on April 26, 2018

The explosion occurred during the routine maintenance shutdown of the fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) unit, a process used to produce gasoline. The two vessels within the FCC unit exploded. The force of the explosions propelled metal fragments, causing some to penetrate an adjacent asphalt storage tank. This led to the release of roughly 17,000 barrels of hot asphalt, triggering additional blasts and igniting multiple fires.

A final report released by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board found the refinery’s lack of safeguards during the maintenance shutdown led to the explosion. Investigators determined the refinery failed to take steps to prevent air from mixing with flammable hydrocarbons in the FCC unit. The report noted a severely eroded slide valve that had been known to leak.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board made 16 total recommendations to improve safety at the site, most of which applied to the refinery. This included creating safeguards to help prevent explosions in the FCC unit and establishing a program to ensure the mechanical integrity of slide valves.

Refinery during fire
Explosion’s plume of smoke visible for miles in surrounding area

After years of construction and diligently implementing the recommendations set forth by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, the company is finally ready to reopen. However, rebuilding has proven to be lengthier and more costly than initially anticipated. Originally estimated at $400 million, the total expenses have now escalated to $1.2 billion.

Two towers to be used to process chemicals – 90 feet and 110 feet long.

To ensure sufficient coverage in safety processes and emergency procedures, the refinery will now employ over 350 dedicated employees.  The company has taken significant measures to enhance safety including those recommended by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. The site installed additional monitoring systems and mitigation measures to actively identify and address any potential leaks. These measures aim to minimize risks and prioritize the safety of the facility and its surrounding areas.

Risk Logic engineers specialize in conducting thorough inspections designed to prevent and manage property loss. Their expertise lies in evaluating potential fire and explosion hazards and risks within a facility. Please contact Risk Logic to perform a property loss prevention inspection at your facility to prevent a loss such as this one.