Husky Energy uses its newsroom to address refinery explosion

When an accident caused an explosion at a Wisconsin facility, the energy firm turned to Twitter and its own online newsroom to share updates and respond to public queries.

Even old-school crises call for modern tools to execute an effective response.

In an oil refinery explosion near Superior, Wisconsin that could have been much worse, many were counting their blessings after no fatalities were reported at the facility and an evacuation order was lifted at 6 a.m. Friday morning.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel wrote:

At least 20 people were injured and thousands evacuated when explosions rocked a northern Wisconsin refinery Thursday.

The fire was extinguished shortly before 7 p.m. Thursday and evacuation order was lifted about 6 a.m. Friday.

The organization that owns the refinery, Canadian-based Husky Energy, received praise for how involved it was in responding to the incident.

The Journal-Sentinel continued:

“The refinery is a very involved business, it’s just not what’s burning but everything that’s around it,” said Superior Fire Battalion Chief Scott Gordon. “We want to make sure we’re doing it safely.”

How were Husky’s communications teams able to get the word out quickly? They turned to Twitter and their own online newsroom.

In the immediate aftermath of the explosion, the organization released a placeholder statement detailing what was known about the accident and offering contact information for two point people on the communications team.

Husky wrote:

Emergency crews are on site and all workers have been accounted for. Husky’s first priority is the safety of its people, the community and emergency responders. There are injuries, which are being treated at hospital and on site.

Regulatory authorities have been notified. Local air quality is being monitored. There is no danger to the public or local residents at this time.

Further information will be provided as it becomes available.

Three hours later, Husky offered an update when an evacuation order was given for the nearby town of Superior:

In an effort to help affected citizens, the organization tweeted a hotline people could call to receive aid:

Later, Husky thanked the community for its heroic efforts to come together and help one another:

Finally, the organization promised to investigate the cause of the incident:

Striking images of the smoke plumes from the explosion covered Twitter, proving once again that images have a lot of impact on social media platforms.

Searching for patterns

The organization has some ground to cover, as many consider the explosion to be linked to years of health and safety complaints. Husky Energy’s CEO Rob Peabody rejected the idea that the incidents were linked.

The Financial Post reported:

Peabody also said he didn’t believe there was any connection between Thursday’s fire and other operational issues that have landed Husky in trouble with regulators in recent years, including a near-miss with an iceberg at a platform offshore Newfoundland and a large oil spill in Saskatchewan in 2016.

Husky faces 10 charges from its pipeline spill in Saskatchewan.

“The pipeline incident in Saskatchewan was one where the ground shifted and it caused the pipeline to fail, so I’d be surprised if there was any ground shifting involved in this one,” Peabody said. He also said the iceberg near miss in Newfoundland was a different series of events.

Take note, communicators: Your crisis response shouldn’t be prepared to address only the immediate incident. Reporters (and the public) will try to find a pattern whether it exists or not.

Air contamination

Husky Energy has yet to discuss problems with air quality, and its declaration that the incident is “over” might come back to haunt it.

ABC reported:

The gases include so-called volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, which can cause symptoms ranging from dizziness, breathing problems and nausea to liver damage and cancer , depending on the level and length of exposure, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency .

Also present in asphalt smoke are microscopic particles of chemicals that stick together as visible smoke.

Those particles carry cancer-causing benzene and other contaminants that can lodge deep in the lungs when inhaled. From there, they can pass directly into a person’s bloodstream, said Neil Carman, a former refinery inspector for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, now with the Sierra Club.

“Anybody breathing that stuff should be very concerned about what’s getting into deep tissue, into the bloodstream,” Carman said. “When you see that kind of smoke, it means you’re getting a lot of unburned hydrocarbons. … Those particles are loaded with carcinogens.”

How would you advise Husky Energy to address these concerns going forward?

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