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Husky refinery fire investigation details could be released next month

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is expected to release in August details about the investigation into April's Husky Refinery fire in Superior. file / News Tribune

Details from the Husky Energy refinery fire investigation could soon be released.

A "factual update" from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board and Hazard Investigation Board is expected in early August, board spokesperson Hillary Cohen said in an email Tuesday. The short document will provide the public with an update on the investigation and some additional facts regarding the April 26 explosion and asphalt fire, which left 21 people injured at the Superior refinery and led to the evacuation of nearly the entire city.

A completion date on the investigation is uncertain, but officials had previously said it could take up to 18 months.

The board doesn't issue fines or citations, but makes recommendations "to a variety of parties, including government entities, safety organizations, trade unions, trade associations, corporations, emergency response organizations, educational institutions, and public interest groups," according to its website.

What's known is where the explosion happened — the fluid catalytic cracking unit. According to both Husky and the board, that's where investigators have focused their attention.

At the beginning of the investigation, the board issued a preservation order across the refinery until they could inspect it. The scope of the investigation has narrowed as it moved forward.

"Our practice is to start out with a broad area under our evidence control and release units after evidence has been collected and continued control is not needed for the investigation," Cohen said.

So far, the board has released 10 of the 14 units from their investigation, Husky officials said in a July update posted to their website.

"At this point we (the board) are only controlling the (fluid catalytic cracking unit), which is where the initial explosion(s) took place," Cohen said.

When units are no longer under a preservation order, Husky crews can move in to begin clean-up and repairs.

Husky said about 400 employees and contractors are working on the cleanup, and over 2,500 tons of spilled asphalt have been removed from the site.

Air monitoring reduced

Husky ended air monitoring in the surrounding community last month after test results continued to show the air was safe. Monitoring will be reinstated if sensitive tasks are taking place onsite.

"Monitoring within the facility will continue while activities are conducted at the site, and procedures are in place to reinitiate monitoring in the community in the event that ongoing activities cause air emissions that may extend beyond the refinery fence line," according to Husky Energy's community update.

Jimmy Lovrien

Jimmy Lovrien is a reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. He spent the summer of 2015 as an intern for the Duluth News Tribune and was hired full time in October 2017 as a reporter for the Weekly Observer. He also reported for the Lake County News-Chronicle in 2017-18. Lovrien grew up in Alexandria, Minn., but moved to Duluth in 2013 to attend The College of St. Scholastica. Lovrien graduated from St. Scholastica in 2017 with a bachelor's degree in English and history. He also spent a summer studying journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

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