A member of the group called it an elaborate hoax meant to direct attention to the danger of hydrogen fluoride
A group portraying itself as Husky Energy rolled out a fake public safety initiative in Superior on the four-year anniversary of the Husky oil refinery explosion that injured dozens of people and forced many residents to temporarily evacuate.
One 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 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.” Representing itself as the company in a news release, the group offered Duluth and Superior community members opportunities to sign up for safety alerts and learn more about hydrogen fluoride on a new website.
The website states those who sign up for hydrogen fluoride gas leak warnings will receive a complimentary compassion kit. That kit is said to include a coloring book, a hydrogen fluoride gas detector for a kid’s room and rapid acting burn cream “formulated with natural oils sourced from Alberta’s Tar Sands region” to treat hydrogen fluoride chemical burns.
“Husky Friends is an accurate portrayal of the disregard that Husky and Cenovus have for the communities of Superior and Duluth,” said Jim Haugen, a member of the group and Twin Cities resident. “They’re basically telling hundreds of thousands of people to be OK with the fact that they’re putting their lives in danger for a few extra dollars.”
In a statement, a Cenovus spokesperson said Modest Proposals is in no way associated with Husky, Cenovus or the Superior refinery.
Haugen said the group is a collaboration of Extinction Rebellion members and the Yes Men. Extinction Rebellion bills itself as an international “non-violent civil disobedience” movement that’s rooted in climate justice and seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Prankster duo Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno started the Yes Men, which has since grown to train students in what they call “laughtivism.” On its website, the duo said it’s 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 city’s 27,000 residents to evacuate over fears of a hydrogen fluoride release.
The highly toxic chemical is used in refining to make gasoline, but it can be hazardous to human health when released. While no hydrogen fluoride was spilled that day, Haugen said he learned of the issue through Duluth and Superior residents who were frustrated with the refinery’s plans to rebuild.
The group released a phony commercial, thousands of postcards and social media posts with its fake campaign. One tweet featured the group presenting the initiative to Superior Mayor Jim Paine.