, , ,

Limited Work Resumes On Husky Oil Refinery Rebuild

Husky Says 'Enhanced Measures' Are Being Taken To Protect Workers

Demolition and cleanup efforts are ongoing at the Husky Energy oil refinery
Demolition and cleanup takes place at Superior’s oil refinery in 2019. Danielle Kaeding/WPR

Crews are resuming construction on the Husky oil refinery rebuild in Superior. The Calgary, Alberta-based company shut down work on the $750 million project in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Husky said it has resumed “limited work” on rebuilding the refinery that was damaged by an explosion and series of fires in April 2018. The incident caused three dozen people to seek medical care and a temporary evacuation of some city residents due to the presence of hydrogen fluoride. The chemical can be hazardous to human health if released.

Kyle Bukovich, president of the Northern Wisconsin Building and Construction Trades, said a lot of their members have been furloughed or laid off due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

“(I’m) really glad to hear that Husky’s starting to allow contractors back on-site and they have implemented a COVID plan, like a safety procedure, on how to deal with members coming to work on-site,” said Bukovich.

Husky spokesperson Kim Guttormson said in an email that some local contractors are being brought back to work at three sites within the refinery on piling, concrete foundations and collecting construction materials.

“Enhanced measures, including frequent cleaning of all lunch rooms and break facilities and additional hand washing and hand sanitizer stations have been put in place to ensure the health and safety of the workforce,” wrote Guttormson.

Guttormson said they’re also spacing traffic at the refinery for drivers loading gasoline and diesel fuel. Some essential staff have remained on-site to maintain its wastewater treatment plant.

Husky announced plans to rebuild its refinery in April last year, which include a number of safety modifications. The company said it would add more layers of water protection and a rapid acid transfer system that would transfer hydrofluoric acid to a separate holding tank in the event of any release.

Labor and business leaders have voiced support for the project. But, local leaders have called for the company to remove hydrogen fluoride from the refinery’s operations. Tribal and community members have also expressed concerns about the company’s use of the chemical in lieu of safer alternatives, including Superior resident Kay McKenzie.

“I’m glad the workers will have jobs. I just wish we had some cleaner alternatives and less polluting and less health risks in all sorts of ways,” said McKenzie. “I feel we’re expendable. Our health is expendable and that the jobs are more important than the people’s health.”

Husky has said other alternatives, such as sulfuric acid or ionic liquid alkylation technology, were not viable options for maintaining refinery operations.

Husky has spent around $43 million in Canadian currency on the project so far this year before work was halted. The company reported $1.7 billion in losses in the first quarter of this year as a result of market volatility caused by the pandemic. Despite losses, Husky said it’s taken steps to bolster the financial strength of the company, including drastic cuts to capital spending.

The company typically employs roughly 200 workers year-round during normal operations with a payroll of around $27 million. More than 350 contractors were expected to work on the rebuild prior to the pandemic. Husky did not say how many contractors would resume work on the rebuild or whether its project or timeline has changed due to the COVID-19 crisis. Officials have said they hope to resume normal operations next year.