Wisconsin's Only Oil Refinery to Reopen After 2018 Explosion

It cost $1.2 billion to rebuild the facility.

WDIO-TV via AP, File

SUPERIOR, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin's only oil refinery is on track to be fully operational in June after a $1.2 billion effort to rebuild the facility five years following an explosion that injured three dozen workers.

The 2018 explosion and subsequent fires at the facility then-owned by Calgary-based Husky Energy in Superior also produced fears of a hydrofluoric acid leak, causing 2,500 people in the city to evacuate.

No acid leaked but a tank containing hot asphalt spilled 17,000 barrels into the facility. The asphalt caught fire, sending up a plume of black smoke that released thousands of pounds of flammable hydrocarbon vapor. The explosion caused about $550 million in damage to the refinery.

The refinery is now owned by Calgary-based Cenovus Energy. Cenovus said Wednesday the refinery is on track to resume full operations by the end of June, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

The cost to rebuild the refinery tripled from initial projections, and it took years longer than expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A final report released by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board in December found the refinery's lack of safeguards during a maintenance shutdown led to the explosion. The board made 16 recommendations to improve safety, most of which applied to the refinery and Cenovus.

Superior Mayor Jim Paine said he's working with the Superior Fire Department to ensure the recommendations are implemented to the city's satisfaction.

As the refinery prepares to restart, Cenovus implemented safety upgrades to the hydrofluoric acid unit, said Doreen Cole, the company's senior vice president of downstream manufacturing.

Other safety upgrades include seven remote-control water cannons, continuous video surveillance and the use of color-changing paint to detect any potential release.

The refinery typically produces gasoline, diesel and asphalt with a capacity of roughly 50,000 barrels per day. Around 350 employees will now work at the refinery, which previously employed about 200 workers.

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