A safety engineer in St. Paul says a 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation has put a spotlight on oil refineries that store a toxic chemical and the federal agency tasked with regulating them.
David Sullivan-Nightengale, who has spent the past 18 years inspecting safety equipment in industrial plants for private companies, says the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should be reviewing safety plans every year at refineries that use large amounts of hydrogen fluoride.
Hydrogen fluoride is a highly toxic chemical used to improve the quality of gasoline.
“An annual inspection of the safety systems should be required,” Sullivan-Nightengale said.
Yet, a 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation found the EPA had never inspected the Husky Energy refinery in Superior, Wisconsin, prior to an explosion last April.
On Thursday, Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.), who represents a district near that refinery, called those findings “extremely troubling.”
The town of Superior was forced to evacuate after the explosion because city leaders feared hydrogen fluoride could leak if a storage tank ruptured.
A spokesperson for Husky Energy says its safety plans had adequately prepared the surrounding community.
Sullivan-Nightengale said annual inspections are necessary because the chemical is so corrosive.
“I’ve seen what happens when hydrogen fluoride is stored too long in a spot,” he said. “It will eat through stainless steel over time.”
The chemical is also stored at the Andeavor refinery in St. Paul Park – in the Twin Cities metro.
A spokesperson for Andeavor said its emergency plans “comply with all regulatory requirements” and are reviewed and approved by the EPA.
However, a 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS found the EPA has not inspected that refinery since June 2007.
A spokesperson for the EPA said the agency “assumes a company, a well-run company, has taken proper safety procedures,” and does not have enough inspectors to conduct regular reviews of safety plans.
“You would not have proper oversight with those gaps…absolutely not,” Sullivan-Nightengale said.