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Local View: Take deep breaths, await full regulatory review after refinery fire

With the explosion of the Husky Energy refinery still fresh in the rearview mirror, it is easy to make instinctive statements and demands. Local citizens, leaders, the news media, and bloggers have weighed in. The primary concern of most has focused on the refinery's use of a chemical called hydrogen fluoride, a catalyst in the oil-refinement process. The chemical was housed 200 feet from the recent fire. By most expert accounts, it would have been disastrous and deadly had it exploded. Thankfully, the refinery had safety measures in place for scenarios like this, and the hydrogen fluoride did not explode.

Nikolas BayukPublic calls have started for the refinery to end the use of this product and to make the switch to a less dangerous chemical.

Some claims related to the April 26 fire have raised eyebrows, such as suggesting that Superior would have been "atomized" by the chemical or that the fire was evidence that projects in other industries, such as mining and pipelines, should not be permitted.

Demands that followed were equally troubling, including that the refinery be permanently shut down.

While there is absolutely cause for concern about the dangers of hydrogen fluoride, it's important to remember there is a regulatory-review process that needs to be followed. A full investigation is already underway, and state and federal regulatory agencies have given assurances the air and water are safe.

Husky Energy has been a good corporate citizen in the past and has an opportunity to learn from this accident, make changes, rebuild, and continue to have a positive economic impact on the Twin Ports.

Now is the time to slow down, let our state and federal regulators carry out their duties and make their determinations in a timely and science-based manner. They ultimately may decide that the use of hydrogen fluoride needs to be addressed. Only a careful study and a full regulatory review will equip us with the knowledge to continue to make informed choices and actions.

Nikolas Bayuk of Duluth wrote and submitted this on behalf of the Better in Our Back Yard mining-advocacy group (betterinourbackyard.com).

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