Husky Energy target group in public safety initiative hoax on anniversary of Husky refinery explosion

A group posing as Husky Energy launched a bogus public safety initiative in Superior on the fourth anniversary of the Husky oil refinery explosion that injured dozens and forced many residents to temporarily evacuate.

A member of the group, which calls itself Modest Proposals, said it was an elaborate hoax to draw attention to the refinery’s plans to continue using a highly toxic chemical when it resumes operations. activities next year.

The group posed as Husky, which was bought in a multi-billion dollar deal last year by Cenovus Energy Inc., as it unveiled an initiative called “Husky Friends”. Introducing itself as the company in a press release, the group offered members of the Duluth and Superior community the opportunity to sign up for safety alerts and learn more about hydrogen fluoride on a new site. website.

The website says those who sign up for hydrogen fluoride leak warnings will receive a free compassion kit. This kit would include a coloring book, a hydrogen fluoride gas detector for a child’s room and a fast-acting anti-burn cream “formulated with natural oils from the oil sands region of Alberta”. to treat hydrogen fluoride chemical burns.

“Husky Friends is a true representation of the disregard Husky and Cenovus have for the communities of Superior and Duluth,” said band member and Twin Cities resident Jim Haugen. “They’re basically telling hundreds of thousands of people to be okay with putting their lives on the line for a few extra bucks.”

In a statement, a Cenovus spokesperson said Modest Proposals was in no way associated with Husky, Cenovus or the Superior refinery.

Haugen said the group was a collaboration between members of Extinction Rebellion and the Yes Men. Extinction Rebellion markets itself as an international movement of “nonviolent civil disobedience” rooted in climate justice and seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Prankster duo Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno created the Yes Men, which have since expanded to train students in what they call “laughtivism”. On their website, the duo said they infiltrated press conferences and destroyed brands to expose wrongdoing.

But it was no joke when the explosion and fires at Wisconsin’s only oil refinery forced many of the town’s 27,000 residents to evacuate for fear of a release of hydrogen fluoride.

The highly toxic chemical is used in refining to make gasoline, but it can be dangerous to human health when released. Although no hydrogen fluoride was spilled that day, Haugen said he learned of the problem from residents of Duluth and Superior who were frustrated with plans to rebuild the refinery.

The group released fake advertising, thousands of postcards and social media posts with its fake campaign. A tweet featured the group presenting the initiative to Senior Mayor Jim Paine.

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Paine said members of the group, including a Husky mascot, identified themselves as members of the refinery and the interaction raised immediate red flags.

“I’m always skeptical of taking an issue as serious as public safety, or a crisis as big as the refinery fire, lightly or using satire to describe it, I think it is not only gross, but it doesn’t allow us to really consider the very real safety issues that a refinery in a city can present,” Paine said.

Haugen said laughter can often reach people where advocacy fails. He pointed to the film “Don’t Look Up,” which has been called a biting satire of the climate crisis. He understands that some may consider trickery to be in bad taste.

“I think what Husky and Cenovus are doing is in very bad taste,” Haugen said.

Paine and Duluth Mayor Emily Larson asked the refinery to remove hydrogen fluoride from its operations in 2018. The following year, Husky announced that it would continue to use the chemical in its refining process. . Paine said he was disappointed with the decision.

Still, he noted that the refinery is taking steps to improve safety as part of its rebuild. Cenovus said Wednesday the project is now expected to cost $1.2 billion as part of its first-quarter earnings release.

“(W)e continue to safely advance work toward a restart of the refinery,” Cenovus spokesperson Kim Guttormson said.

As part of the project, Cenovus is investing in additional safety measures for its hydrogen fluoride alkylation unit. These upgrades include seven remote-controlled water cannons, a reduction in the maximum on-site hydrogen fluoride inventory, improved leak detection, and emergency isolation valves to limit any potential leaks. The refinery is also investing in a rapid acid transfer system capable of rapidly transferring hydrogen fluoride to another holding tank in the event of a release.

Senior Resident Austin Yadon hadn’t heard of the prank, and he sees how it can drive some people hysterical.

“However, it’s also important to draw attention to safety,” Yadon said. “I believe the new refinery management is taking the appropriate safety precautions and will continue to do so in the future.”

Kay McKenzie, who lives about a mile from the refinery, said the group’s prank seemed “a little twisted” but noted that it caught people’s attention. McKenzie said she was worried about the refinery resuming operations next year, but she said most people had accepted the business and the roughly 200 jobs it provides year-round.

“I don’t know if they could change right now,” McKenzie said. “I think it’s a bit late.”