Husky Energy announced Tuesday it will curtail work to rebuild its Superior refinery, which was damaged in a fire on April 26, 2018.

Kim Guttormson, a media and issues specialist for the company, explained the decision in an email.

"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. We have been closely monitoring the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation and closely following the advice and direction of health authorities. At this time, the best course of action is to suspend the work," she wrote.

Guttormson went on to say: "We know the decision to suspend work on the project has an impact on many people. We made this decision with the sole focus of the health and safety of our workforce, including contractors, their families and everyone living in our community."

Husky has yet to determine how long the project will be placed on hold, and Guttormson said the company will consult with involved unions and contractors before any decision to resume work is made.

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Earlier this month, in a fourth-quarter earnings report, the Calgary, Alberta-based company disclosed to investors that the estimated cost of the Superior rebuild had grown nearly 90% — from its initial prediction of $400 million to a revised $750 million price tag. Meanwhile, oil prices have plunged, placing additional strains on the energy sector.

Guttormson noted that the terminals at the refinery "are considered critical operations, supplying gasoline and diesel, and will remain in operation," despite Gov. Tony Evers' order to temporarily suspend all non-essential travel and business operations in Wisconsin due to the pandemic.

"We will have essential staff on site, continuing social distancing measures for people working on site and between workers and customers," Guttormson wrote.

She said Husky also is working to schedule distribution so multiple drivers aren't left waiting to take deliveries of product. Guttormson also said staff will remain on site to oversee essential operations, including those of the facility's wastewater treatment plant.

"Our priority is and will remain the health and safety of our workforce, their families and our community," she wrote.

The 2018 explosion and fire at Husky's Superior refinery injured 36 people and led to the evacuation of much of the city, largely fueled by the fear of a potential release of hydrogen fluoride. None of the facility's supply of the toxic gas was found to have escaped, however.

This story was updated at 8:25 p.m. on March 24 to correct Kim Guttormson's job title. The News Tribune regrets the error.

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