Husky refinery fire: No to hydrogen fluoride

July 2018 Husky fireBy LUCAS ALAN DIETSCHE

— SUPERIOR, Wis. — On April 26, around 10 a.m., on the same day as the anniversary of the explosion at Chernobyl, the Husky Refinery here exploded and caught fire. For nine hours, toxic fumes blew 30 miles to the south. Eleven workers were injured but soon recovered. Most of this city along the shore of Lake Superior had to be evacuated.

Without having yet learned the details about the damage, Superior’s Democratic Mayor Jim Paine said that the air was unpolluted after the fire was put out. Right away, however, community member began to express their fears about the quality of the water, air, and soil.

Husky is an oil and gas corporation headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, and a tripartite player with Enbridge and TransCanada. Its Superior refinery takes in tar sands from Alberta and, as one of the projects, turns the oil into asphalt. To make asphalt, Husky uses a deadly chemical called hydrogen fluoride (HF). The burning asphalt on April 26 was merely a few feet from the tanks of this deadly substance. If the fire had released the HF, Superior and much of the surrounding area might resemble Chernobyl.

“A worst-case-scenario release from this facility would cover a radius that would encompass the entire populated area of the city of Superior and much of Duluth,” reads the Douglas County hazardous materials response plan. “The number of people affected would vary by season and current weather conditions but would range in the thousands any time of year.”

Hydrogen fluoride is also an additive used in gasoline refining. About 50 refineries around the country employ the substance—a potential danger to millions of people. In high concentrations, the fumes burn the skin and lungs.

To present a business-as-usual facade, Husky held a public forum, which was vigorously opposed by activists seeking answers. And so, activists with local groups and Socialist Action organized an alternative forum, which featured local environmentalists as speakers. About 100 people attended.

In response to growing fears, Husky held a Q and A at a local middle school within sight of the oil refinery towers. But instead of answering community concerns with facts, Husky supplied catered food, Husky paraphernalia, and plenty of mis-information. Community activists are demanding that HF be removed from Superior. They want more transparency about the fire and building green alternatives to the Husky Refinery. This is Superior, not Huskyville!