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Published: Monday, 11/23/2009

Start-up under way at Lima oil refinery after incident


Husky Energy Inc. said it's proceeding with startup of its Lima, Ohio, refinery and doesn't anticipate a delay after a 4 million-gallon oil tank boiled over and spewed coker feedstock as far as three miles Sunday.

"We are still proceeding with startup," Graham White, a company spokesman, said Monday in a telephone interview. Workers boomed off two areas in the Ottawa River as part of the cleanup process, he said.

Oil tank No. 57 "boiled over splitting open the top" of the fixed roof tank, according to an incident report Husky filed yesterday with Ohio's Environmental Protection Agency. "Company noted event was during startup event. Company noted the event is stopped and an investigation is ongoing," according to the report filed yesterday.

The 160,000-barrel-a-day plant, which accounts for about 4.2 percent of the refining capacity in the Midwest, or PADD 2 region, of the U.S., began returning from more than a month of maintenance Nov. 19, a state regulator said earlier this month.

About 49,000 gallons of oil are estimated to have been released, according to Mick Hans, a spokesman for the U.S. Environment Protection Agency. That estimate may be revised lower as tank capacities are determined, he said.

The oil was released from the storage tank, which holds the product before it's fed into a coker, said Russ Decker, director of the Allen County Emergency Management Agency, in a telephone interview. Cokers use thermal processing to convert heavy refinery streams such as vacuum bottoms into light products such as heating oil.

"When the oil released, it went up in a cloud and the air carried it," said Decker. "It left the refinery property and stretched out for an area of 2.5 to about 3 miles."

Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are investigating the release and the cleanup will take weeks, Decker said. More than 100 houses in the area may have been affected and Husky has set up a free carwash in the area, according to Hans.

Maintenance at the refinery started in October and was scheduled to last 42 days and affect 72 percent of the plant's units, the company said in September. Achieving normal production levels after processing units are shut down can take days or even weeks as operators return the units to normal heat and pressure levels.

The release occurred at 9:45 a.m. yesterday, Husky said in the recorded message left on a community hot line. The release isn't anticipated to be harmful to people or animals and the storage tank has been safely sealed, according to the message.

Two domesticated ducks are the only wildlife to have been affected so far, Decker said. The ducks were treated by a local veterinarian.

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