From bankruptcy to fire to closure, a rocky end for Philadelphia Energy SolutionsBy Patricia Madej, The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 26, 2019
Philadelphia Energy Solutions, the East Coast’s largest refinery, will close within the next month, an announcement that comes days after a series of explosions rocked the city and reverberated throughout the country.
While residents and activists questioned the refinery’s role in the community following the incident, its owner was already edging closer to the financial brink, a little more than a year after a court approved a bankruptcy plan that aimed to bring some stability.
Here’s a look back at the events that lead up the fire, which the refinery’s CEO said Wednesday “made it impossible” to “continue operations.”
The formation: The South Philly complex, which is technically two different refineries, dates back more than a century. Sunoco acquires both refineries, and transferred the complex in 2012 to a joint venture between Sunoco and the Carlyle Group. The joint venture is named Philadelphia Energy Solutions.
Bankruptcy: Philadelphia Energy Solutions LLC files a bankruptcy plan in an effort to restructure $525 million of debt and bring in new owners, pointing the finger toward the rising cost of renewable energy credits for its financial distress.
Emerging from bankruptcy: A judge approves PES’ bankruptcy plan, putting it on the path toward financial recovery.
The explosions: A series of explosions cause a major blaze at PES that jolted many worried residents out of bed. The fire was so hot and large that it could be detected in space. Residents are first advised to shelter-in-place, though later air tests show that the incident posed no immediate danger. Five people are injured, and an executive director of the Clean Air Council says residents “narrowly dodged a catastrophe.” Activists call for the refinery’s closure.
Shifting focus: A fire, albeit small, still flickers, while spotlight shifts to whether the immediate area was exposed to hydrofluoric fluoride, one of the most toxic materials handled in the refinery. Exposure could cause skin and respiratory irritation and be fatal in larger doses.
Fire out: The refinery blaze is extinguished after officials shut off the gas valve fueling the fire.
Investigation: The investigation into what exactly cause the explosion gets underway, involving multiple federal and local agencies.
Health concerns: Mayor Jim Kenney notes that “there are no findings that would suggest a threat to public health.” Dr. Caroline Johnson, a deputy health commissioner for the city, said hydrogen fluoride was not released.
Closure: The city confirms that Philadelphia Energy Solutions is set to close, and more than 1,000 workers will be impacted. While the shuttering is set to happen within the next month, gas prices were already sent surging. The confirmation of the refinery’s shuttering — as well as the closing of Hahnemann University Hospital — is expected to be a major blow to Philadelphia’s economy.