Category Archives: Fire

Philadelphia refinery closes after massive explosion and fire

[Editor: After extensive cleanup, the site could reopen as a renewable energy facility!  See story in the Inquirer, also in cleantechnica.com.  – RS]

From bankruptcy to fire to closure, a rocky end for Philadelphia Energy Solutions

By Patricia Madej, The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 26, 2019
From bankruptcy to fire to closure, a rocky end for Philadelphia Energy Solutions
A view of Philadelphia Energy Solutions on June 26, 2019 in Philadelphia, PA.  – DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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.”

2012

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.

January 22, 2018

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.

March 26, 2018

Emerging from bankruptcy: A judge approves PES’ bankruptcy plan, putting it on the path toward financial recovery.

Sept. 20, 2018

Previous warning: A report from the University of Pennsylvania predicts that the PES complex might soon shutter and suggests that the city prepare for what to do with the 1,300-acre industrial property.

June 21, 2019

The explosions: 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.

Updated locator map of the refinery explosion on June 21, 2019, at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in South Philadelphia
Updated locator map of the refinery explosion on June 21, 2019, at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in South Philadelphia

June 22, 2019

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.

June 23, 2019

Fire out: The refinery blaze is extinguished after officials shut off the gas valve fueling the fire.

June 24, 2019

Investigation: The investigation into what exactly cause the explosion gets underway, involving multiple federal and local agencies.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019:

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.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

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.

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    Residents concerned about smoke; officials ‘let it burn’

    March 19, 2019, 3:15pm Pacific Time

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      Massive refinery fire in Texas left to burn itself out

      Repost from The Houston Chronicle
      [Editor: Benicia’s worst nightmare…  – R.S.]

      To Deer Park residents, fire a reminder of ‘like living on a fault line’

      Samantha Ketterer and Emily Foxhall March 18, 2019 Updated: March 18, 2019 4:37 p.m.
      Petrochemical fire at the Intercontinental Terminals Company Monday, March 18, 2019, in Deer Park, Texas. | Photo: Godofredo A. Vasquez/Staff photographer

      Jodie Thompson pulled over on Independence Parkway, less than a mile away from a petrochemical plant that was leaking plumes of black smoke into the sky.

      In her 34 years living in Deer Park, she’d seen flares before. But this was different.

      “I trust that they actually know what they’re doing, but inside, I have this doubt,” Thompson said Monday afternoon, watching the flames from inside the safety of her car.

      The fire had raged at Intercontinental Terminals Company for more than 26 hours by the early afternoon and spread to eight holding tanks. Even after a shelter-in-place was lifted Monday morning, the fire was still expected to burn for two more days.

      The ordeal, in some ways, was part of life in Deer Park, an east Harris County city of more than 33,000 people. Residents said they were familiar with the risks that come with living by the refineries and chemical plants. At a certain point, you have to stop worrying, they said.

      “You can’t fret about it,” said Thompson, who is 60. “What are you going to do? You choose to live here.”

      Holly Ball, 47, is a newer resident to Deer Park, having lived in the city for just a year. She’s noticed the puffing smoke stacks at the refineries, of course, but wasn’t aware of a threat like this, she said.

      Like Thompson and many other residents on Monday, Ball parked her car to take photos of the smoke spreading miles west into Houston. She planned to send them to her friends in Louisiana.

      “It’s scary,” she said. Her dog barked in the seat next to her. “It’s scary.”

      On Facebook, people responded to official updates with more questions. They wanted to know more about what exactly was happening and what the risks were to their health.

      Would the city of Deer Park be evacuated? Was it possible the plant would explode? The shelter-in-place had been in Deer Park, but what about people in the close-by city of Pasadena? And in La Porte?

      Some people wrote of alarm sirens that should have gone off but haven’t worked for some time. Even with the shelter-in-place lifted, looking up at the sky, it was hard for many to believe air quality was fine. Some wrote of symptoms they were experiencing.

      WHAT WE DISCOVERED: A HoustonChronicle.com investigation found dangerous chemicals create hidden dangers

      One person said she had trouble breathing overnight. Two others wrote of burning sensations in their eyes. Another person decided to leave the area because their child was having trouble breathing. Some said they were simply nervous to sleep.

      Bernice Oehrlein, 78, pushed a cart in the morning through the Food Town grocery store in Deer Park, about 5 miles southwest of the plant. She recently had a bad bout with pneumonia, so the fire is concerning for health reasons, she said.

      “I have a hard time breathing anyways,” Oehrlein said.

      At a Starbucks just down the road, Cindy Richards and her daughter drank coffee instead of going on their normal Monday walk.

      Richards, a 67-year-old who lives in Pasadena, recalled the drive to Deer Park, before she realized a fire had clouded up the sky.

      “I was like, ‘It’s a little overcast,'” she said. But then, “I come a little closer – ‘That’s smoke.'”

      Richards doesn’t pay too much attention to the factories anymore, although she said they used to be more top-of-mind when she lived off of Sims Bayou, closer to some of the refineries.

      Her daughter, 35-year-old Robyn French, lives close to the plant in Deer Park with her husband and two children. Flares, smoke and a gassy smell have become a normal occurrence, and she knows what to do in the case of an explosion.

      But French knew better than to ignore the smoke on Monday, even though she said she felt fairly safe.

      She made sure Sunday and Monday that her son wasn’t outside on his bike, breathing in anything possibly dangerous. And the unknown is still concerning.

      “Am I still able to eat the Swiss chard and kale I’m growing in my garden?” she asked. “That’s a valid question to me. Will my oranges be full of chemicals when they’re full grown?”

      IN THE AIR: What you need to know about the chemicals

      Heather Trevino, 42, grew up in Deer Park and lives there now with her 9-year-old daughter. She said she had taken shelter before, but didn’t recall an incident as long and intense as this one.

      Trevino saw the smoke rising above her neighbor’s roof Sunday. Her eyes and throat itched. When she got the alert to shelter-in-place, she knew to bring in her two dogs and shut off the A/C.

      Trevino faintly heard the sound of the alarms that she said are tested every Saturday at noon. She put on some movies for her daughter, who also learned in school what to do when a shelter-in-place was ordered.

      “We kind of get it ingrained in us,” Trevino said. “Living here, it’s just kind of part of what you accept, that there’s something that could possibly happen.”

      Thompson likened it to an earthquake-prone area.

      “It’s probably like living on a fault line,” she said. “It doesn’t happen very often, but the possibility is always there. In the back of your mind, you push it back. It’s out of your control.”

      Anthony, a 36-year-old who works at a nearby plant, said he had to take the day off because of his workplace’s proximity to ITC. He declined to give his last name because of his employer.

      While Anthony said he didn’t believe the air quality in the area is particularly bad because of the incident, he’s still concerned of the possibility of an explosion.

      “It’s not anything that can really be taken lightly,” he said. “There is a flash point.”

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