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UPDATED: Fire at St. Paul Park oil refinery damages crude distiller

A fire at the St. Paul Park oil refinery on Sunday caused damages that will cost under $10 million to repair and reduced the facility’s production for the short term.

The fire broke out about 11:30 a.m. in a discharge pump of the plant’s larger crude distillation unit, refinery owner Northern Tier Energy of Connecticut said Monday.

St. Paul Park Fire Chief Kurk Lee said that the crude oil was in the beginning stages of the refining process when a flange that held together piping began to leak. Because the oil had not yet moved through stages where volatile toxins are added, the incident was managable for fire crews.

"If you're going to have a fire at a refinery this is the best one to have," Lee said. "When the oil starts to go through the (refining process), toxins are added and there is more octane. This was basically straight crude oil that was in the first stage of processing."

St. Paul Park, Newport and Cottage Grove firefighters fought the fire with the refinery’s emergency response team, extinguishing it by 2:15 p.m. Nobody was injured.

"It could have been a lot worse," Lee added.

Northern Tier Energy said in a statement that the cause of the fire is under investigation and that the crude unit’s outage will last three to four weeks.

The refinery planned to restart its smaller crude distillation unit and downstream units, but it lowered its production estimate for the third quarter.

The company scheduled maintenance on a different section of the refinery  –  a fluid catalytic cracking unit  –  to begin Oct. 1, but planned to start the turnaround immediately because of the refinery’s drop in production after the fire.

Northern Tier Energy bought the refinery from Marathon Petroleum in 2010. It also purchased 163 SuperAmerica gas stations and SuperMom’s bakeries from Marathon, and supports another 73 franchise SuperAmerica stations.

The refinery is one of two in Minnesota.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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