CSB releases factual update on April explosion and fire at Wisconsin refinery
Superior, Wisconsin, August 2, 2018: Today the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) released a factual update into its ongoing investigation of the April 26, 2018, explosion and subsequent fires at the Husky Superior Refinery in Superior, Wisconsin. The initial explosion occurred in the refinery’s Fluid Catalytic Cracking Unit (FCCU) at approximately 10:00 am while the refinery was shutting down the FCCU for periodic maintenance and inspection.
To date the CSB has determined the following:
The explosion took place during a planned maintenance shutdown of the refinery FCCU. The incident occurred during a scheduled break time and many workers previously in the unit before the explosion had moved either into blast resistant buildings or away from the process unit. One piece of debris from the explosion flew about 200 feet, and struck a large, nearby, aboveground storage tank containing about 50,000 barrels of asphalt. The side of the tank was punctured, resulting in the release of over 15,000 barrels of hot asphalt into the refinery. Approximately two hours after the release, the asphalt ignited, resulting in a large fire. As a result of the explosion, thirty-six people sought medical attention, including eleven refinery and contract workers who sustained OSHA recordable injuries. In addition, a large portion of Superior, Wisconsin was evacuated.
In addition to the factual report, the CSB also released an animation of the events leading up to the explosion of the FCCU. The animation can be found at the CSB website.
Narration for the animation states the following regarding the initial explosion:
"... during the shutdown conditions existed that could have allowed air from the regenerator to flow backward through one of the slide valves into the reactor and then into equipment downstream of the reactor which contained flammable hydrocarbons."
Preventing the mixing of the hydrocarbons and air is important because, if they mix, "an explosion can occur," the narration states.
The CSB investigation is ongoing. Investigators continue to collect data and evidence from the site. Investigators will develop a root cause analysis of this incident based on evidence collected during the investigation. A final report, including facts, analysis, conclusions, and recommendations will be issued at the end of the investigation.
The CSB is an independent, non-regulatory federal agency whose mission is to drive chemical safety change through independent investigations to protect people and the environment. The agency’s board members are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical incidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems.