Second anniversary of Husky refinery fire: The dangers continue

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By LUCAS ALAN DIETSCHE

Several refineries in Louisiana and California have recently exploded and released toxic fumes. These events make the upcoming second anniversary of the Husky refinery explosion and fire in Superior, Wis., even more disconcerting. The Husky anniversary on April 26 is also the anniversary of Chernobyl’s explosion (See Heather Bradford’s April 13 article on the Socialist Resurgence website, “Chernobyl fires threaten to unleash radiation”).

In the aftermath of the Husky explosion in 2018, the plant was also hit with 13 safety violations and fined $83,000 by OSHA.  Another settlement made the company pay least $290,000 to replace or retrofit wood-burning stoves or furnaces at homes, churches or schools over a seven-year period. Another possibly explosion of the deadly Hydrogen Fluoride would make the local population of 150,000 people injured, sick, or dead. Husky locally, nationally, and internationally have been given many chances to clean up their act, but it shows what capitalists are willing to lose to maintain a sense of hegemony and profits.

Unfortunately, unlike last year, with three local anti-Husky events by Socialist Resurgence, Green New Deal groups, DSA, Honor the Earth, Anti-Colonial Land Defense, and other local activists, this year will be met with no resistance. Since last year, Husky has met many environmental fines, minor problems, as well as more safety concerns due to COVID-19.

In June of 2019, Husky Energy was fined nearly 3 million U.S. dollars over a pipeline spill in 2016. Some 60,000 gallons were released into the North Saskatchewan River, with a $102 million cleanup effort.

In February 2020, BP-Husky agreed to pay $2. 6 million for violating air pollution regulations in Oregon and Ohio. The U.S. Justice Department found many record-keeping problems at a Husky refinery plant in regard to pollution requirements.

Also, in February 2020, Husky’s Superior plant had issues with a large tower during maintenance and rebuilding projects. Workers noted that a “pop” had indicated a defect in the tower’s integrity. Even though the company said that the “pop” of the tower and the possible falling of the tower would present no risk to the community, a large area and a major road was either evacuated or sealed off for a time. This did not stop rebuilding efforts at the Superior facility.

Months ago, due to the price of declining oil, Husky said they were cutting “millions of dollars.” Exactly what they were cutting is unclear. But due to the need for profits, it is assumed that Husky cut viable safety, maintenance, and labor needs to supervise daily maintenance of the Husky refinery.

Last month, Husky’s Superior plant suspended reconstruction efforts due to the COVID-19 epidemic. “Given the current safety and public health risks, Husky has begun a systematic and orderly suspension of major construction activities related to the Superior rebuild project,” spokeswoman Kim Guttormson said. Parts of the plant as well as wastewater treatment, diesel terminals, and gasoline would still operate. There is no information on how many people would continue maintenance work or adhering to their safety measures. It is almost unbelievable that such an important and possibly deadly refinery could not have enough safety personal at the plant.

In June 2019, another refinery—which is not part of Husky—exploded in Philadelphia, sending 5000 pounds of deadly hydrogen fluoride into the air before being doused. HF is used in many refineries around the country—including in Superior. A piece of shrapnel from the Superior fire narrowly failed to hit a container of HF only 150 feet away. While agitation by environmental activists and neighbors in Philadelphia helped in closing the refinery, the Husky facility in Superior remains in operation.

Any action to unite labor and climate justice activists has come to naught in the Superior, Wis., and Duluth, Minn., area. The local community of Superior with a population just under 30,000 has been divided over taking part in protests against the refinery since it brings relatively high-paying union jobs. It is up to socialists, environmentally concerned union workers, and climate justice activists to persuade other union activists and families that they have a common interest in bringing in good-paying union jobs that do not cost the health and safety of the environment and community.

Husky is a ticking time bomb; it has had more than enough chances to prove its so-called safety record. The communities of Duluth and Superior, environmental and labor activists, and Indigenous communities must be united to prevent the release of deadly hydrogen fluoride in another disaster, and thus avoid an American Chernobyl scenario.

 

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