Category Archives: Refinery closures

Emissions are way down. No, that’s not all good news for the environment.

Chaos in the oil sector could actually intensify climate change.

Mother Jones, by Rebecca Leber, April 21, 2020

As the coronavirus cripples world economies, greenhouse gas emissions are plummeting: This year, they could drop by as much as 5.5 percent—the largest decrease ever recorded. On Monday, the price of oil went negative, meaning storing oil now costs more than the oil itself. Since we’re burning less gas and fuel, air pollution has dropped 30 percent in northeastern cities, and Los Angeles’ notorious smoggy skyline has cleared.

You might be thinking all this is great news for the environment. It’s a nice idea—but the real story is more complicated. “You don’t want companies collapsing like this,” says Andrew Logan, oil and gas director of Ceres, a think tank focused on sustainable investment. “Even the most ardent climate advocate shouldn’t wish for a chaotic transition in this sector. A chaotic transition brings all sort of pain to workers and also the environment.”

It helps to think of COVID-19 as a test run—a very painful one—of what an industry in decline will look like. “We’re seeing, as is case the now, what the cliff looks like if everyone shuts down at the same time,” Logan says.

With a glut of supply, North America producers Exxon, Shell, Devon Energy, and Cenovus Energy have already collectively announced spending cuts this year totaling $50 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal. In North Dakota, Trump donor Harold Hamm’s Continental Resources drilling company has cut output by 30 percent the next two months. In Canada, the famously destructive tar sands are too expensive to mine and refine on oil prices this cheap. Even the Southwest’s Permian Basin, the most productive region for oil and gas in the United States, is expected to see dramatic closures.

Environmentalists are worried about what comes next, because of the many unintended consequences of market chaos. For starters, when gas prices tank, Americans will likely start buying more cars and taking more road trips, driving up demand all over again.

Other environmental problems aren’t quite so obvious. Lorne Stockman, a senior research analyst with the climate advocacy group Oil Change International, worries that the coming bankruptcies this year “are an environmental nightmare in the making,” with “wells left to rot as bankruptcy proceedings are going through.”

As the industry contracts, some drilling operations will simply leave their wells, and many don’t have the funding set aside to take proper precautions to make sure greenhouse gases and other pollutants don’t leak out. Environmental advocates are especially worried about leaks of methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas.

Abandoned wells are already a big problem. Even in relatively good times, oil and gas wells still dry up. When they do, they might be sold to smaller, sometimes less scrupulous operators to tap what’s left in the well. Then those operators eventually abandon the well or go bankrupt. They can’t afford to clean up the site, which involves plugging the well with cement to avoid leaks into groundwater.

We don’t know for sure how many of these wells exist around the country, though the EPA estimates there are more than 1.5 million of them that have accumulated over a century. Wyoming has had thousands it’s in the process of plugging, and Pennsylvania has 8,000. Taxpayers will eventually pay for both cleanup and environmental damages.

Drilling operations that don’t shutter will have to find ways to cut costs. In boom times, methane is valuable to drillers because it can be captured and reused for fuel. But when oil and natural gas prices have crashed in the past, drillers have sought to get rid of excess methane in the cheapest way possible—by burning it (a process known as “flaring”) or simply letting it leak into the atmosphere (called “venting”). Both processes can contribute to climate change and contaminate surrounding communities. Flaring and venting worry many environmental advocates. The International Energy Agency notes that “low natural gas prices may lead to increases in flaring or venting, and regulatory oversight of oil and gas operations could be scaled back.”

Methane emissions hit a 20-year high last year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Although scientists don’t fully understand why, they believe that fracking operations may dramatically underestimate the methane they release. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, operations typically lose 15 times the rate that producers report because of malfunctions and intentional venting. The COVID-19 crisis could lead to more leaks, because companies won’t have any incentive to capture methane to use for fuel.

Amid the turbulence in the oil sector, the Trump administration has continued to roll back environmental regulations, and it has already undone Obama-era rules targeting methane emissions from oil and gas operations.

Nathalie Eddy, a field advocate for the environmental watchdog Earthworks, is worried that environmental contamination will be made worse as the administration weakens rules. “When the market falls like this one of the first things that will go is the limited capacity for inspection,” she says. The EPA, Department of the Interior, and Department of Transportation have already announced they will suspend some routine inspections and monitoring, including pipeline reporting and field inspections, and waive civil penalties if violators say COVID-19 was a factor.

Climate advocates have urged the EPA and Department of the Interior to require companies to monitor methane leaks and set aside money for their cleanup. To help the sector recoup the lost revenue, they propose a job stimulus program aimed at reclaiming these sites for the double-duty benefit of a clean environment and keeping workers employed.

But so far, those pleas are going unanswered. The Trump administration has floated several schemes for helping the oil sector: During the first round of stimulus, congressional Democrats managed to shoot down the oil industry’s bailout request. Now, the administration is considering paying producers to leave crude in the ground until the global glut shrinks. Meanwhile, the major banks want some collateral for the $200 billion they are owed from oil companies: According to Reuters, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Citigroup could even seize the industry’s assets, which could pose an enormous conflict of interest for a financial sector that just months ago was signaling a move away from the oil sector.

So far, it looks like the short-term emissions drop won’t result in any lasting policy improvements, Stockman says. “We have seen the wrong kind of stimulus that isn’t aimed at changing our relationship to fossil fuels.”

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  – 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.”


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.

List of refineries that have been shut down, saved or sold in past 5 years

Repost from The Financial Post, Toronto
[Editor’s note: Here in Benicia, Valero is repeatedly using a scare tactic as one of its primary talking points.  When Valero says that their Crude By Rail project will “ensure the refinery remains a strong and healthy member of the community” (quoting from Valero’s mailer), it plainly IMPLIES that without this project, Valero may NOT remain strong and healthy, nor a member of the community.  Valero has in this way frightened their own employees about their job security, and they hope to scare the rest of Benicia about the possibility of a sell-off or closure, harming the local tax base and economy.
20x1_spacerA few fearful and disorderly refinery employees and/or supporters have made verbal threats and ruined SafeBenicia signs, but opponents of the project don’t scare that easily.  A transition away from fossil fuels will be fought with money, fear and every form of propaganda.  Don’t listen.  Solidarity with the workers is fine, but don’t buy into the threats that feed their fear and fury.
T20x1_spacerhe following article on “Atlantic Basin” refineries details 15 closures, 1 sale and 5 “saved” refineries over the last 5 years.  Four of the closures were U.S. refineries, one in Canada.  These closures and retrofits will be a growing phenomenon as we transition out of fossil fuels as a primary energy source.  It will be tough on us all, but good for life on Earth.  – RS]

Shut down, saved or sold: The Atlantic Basin refineries

Selam Gebrekidan, Reuters | June 21, 2013
Imperial Oil Dartmouth Refinery, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
Imperial Oil Dartmouth Refinery, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. | Imperial Oil Limited

Imperial Oil Ltd said earlier this week it was unable to find a buyer for its refinery in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and will instead convert the facility into a terminal operation.

The refinery, which employs some 400 staff and contractors, is Imperial’s least-profitable operation, as it uses high-priced imported crude oil. The company’s other three refineries process cheaper Canadian crude.

Imperial, controlled by Exxon Mobil Corp, put the refinery up for sale more than a year ago and has had interested parties but was not able to make a deal.

The refinery, the only one in Nova Scotia, is among several on both sides of the Atlantic that operators have put up for sale, shut down, or threatened to close due to poor economics.

Below is a list of these refineries.


Owner: Imperial Oil Ltd
Capacity: 88,000 BPD
Imperial said in June 2013 it was unable to find a buyer for its Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, refinery after putting it up on sale more than a year ago, and will instead convert the facility into a terminal operation. The refinery is Imperial’s least-profitable operation as it uses high-priced imported crude oil. Imperial is controlled by Exxon Mobil Corp.

Owner: Hess Corp
Capacity: 70,000 BPD
Hess shut down its Port Reading refinery at the end of February, 2013, the second such facility the company was forced to shutter over the last year, marking the company’s exit from the refining and terminal business.

Owner: Valero Energy Corp
Capacity: 235,000 BPD
Valero decided to convert the refinery into a crude oil and refined products terminal in September 2012 after failing to find a buyer for the plant.

The refinery had been idled since March 2012 due to weak profit margins since it processes heavy sour crudes it bought at a higher cost. Chinese oil giant PetroChina was said to be among strong bidders for the refinery.

Owner: Hovensa LLC, a joint-venture between Hess Corp and state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela
Capacity: 350,000 BPD
Hovensa first reduced rates from 500,000 bpd and then shut the refinery in February 2012. The government of the U.S. Virgin Island objected to the shutdown and in April 2013 said it had agreed to a 14-month sales process with Hovensa LLC, during which time the company could use the plant as a terminal.

The refinery had been powered by fuel oil rather than cheap natural gas because its isolation in the Caribbean mean gas imports are not available. That fact contributed to Hovensa making a loss of $1.3 billion in the last three years of its operation and any future owner will have the same problem to contend with.

Owner: Sunoco Inc, part of Energy Transfer Partners LP, Sunoco Logistics Partners LP, which is part owned by Energy Transfer Partners.
Capacity: 178,000 BPD
Sunoco shut the refinery in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, in December 2011, due to excess capacity and poor margins. Sunoco Logistics then bought the refinery in April 2013 for $60 million and plans to turn it into a natural gas liquids hubs to take advantage of the nearby Marcellus and Utica shale plays.

The company received no offers for the plant as a refinery. Sunoco is processing natural gas at the plant.

Owner: Western Refining
Capacity: 66,300 BPD
Western Refining shut the refinery in September 2010 because of poor refining margins. The site was subsequently sold to Plains All American in December 2011 and is currently in use as a terminal.

Owner: Sunoco Inc, part of Energy Transfer Partners LP.
Capacity:145,000 BPD
Sunoco shut the Eagle Point refinery in November 2009, the first of the casualties of weak demand and slim profit margins among Atlantic Basin refineries. The site, which is connected under the Delaware River to Sunoco’s other sites, Philadelphia and Marcus Hook (see above), is a terminal with capacity to receive barges of Bakken crude from Albany.

Owner: LyondellBasell
Capacity: 105,000 BPD
In January 2012, LyondellBasell mothballed the refinery in southeastern France having been unable to find a buyer for the plant since it began a sales process in May 2011.

Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images

Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty ImagesAn employee of US chemical group LyondellBasell waves a French flag as the employees gather during a new general meeting to protest against the closing of their plant in Berre l’Etang, southern France, on September 29, 2011.


Owner: Petroplus
Capacity: 175,000 bpd
A joint-venture of UK Ltd, Vopak and Greenergy bought the refinery from Petroplus and converted it into a terminal in June, 2012. The refinery had stopped processing crude in May last year after its estimated $1 billion price tag failed to attract buyers.

Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg

Matthew Lloyd/BloombergThe Petroplus refinery in Coryton, Essex.


Owner: Petroplus
Capacity: 117,000 bpd
Petroplus idled the plant in April 2009.

Owner: PetroPlus
Capacity: 161,000 bpd
Petroplus announced in April 2013 that it will shut the refinery after bids to buy it were rejected as unfeasible by the plant’s administrator.

Owner: Petroplus
Capacity: 85,000 bpd
Petroplus closed the refinery in eastern France in the second quarter of 2011. The least profitable of the plants in the PetroPlus refinery stable, the refinery was converted to become a terminal.

Owner: Total SA
Capacity: 150,000 BPD
A French court authorized oil major Total to permanently close the refinery in late October 2010 and proceed with plans to develop non-refining activities on the site.

Owner: ConocoPhillips
Capacity: 260,000 bpd
ConocoPhillips put the simple, hydroskimming refinery up for sale in July 2010. It was bought a year later by private Dutch company Hestya. It is currently being used as a terminal.

Owner: Tamoil
Capacity:  90,000 bpd
Libya’s Tamoil shut the Italian refinery at the end of March 2011 and said it would pursue plans to convert the plant to a storage site.



Owner: Murphy Oil
Capacity: 130,000 BPD
U.S. oil firm Murphy Oil Corp said it would sell the plant to focus on oil and gas exploration and its U.S. retail business. In its first quarter earnings, announced in May 2013, the company said it continues to look for a buyer.


Capacity: 330,000 BPD
Current Owner: Philadelphia Energy Solutions
Former Owner: Sunoco Inc. Philadelphia Energy Solutions is the largest refinery on the U.S. East Coast and is a joint venture of Carlyle Group LP and Energy Transfer Partners, which bought its former owner, Sunoco.

Sunoco and Carlyle reached a deal in the summer of 2012 to keep the plant running with Carlyle overseeing daily operations while Sunoco retained a minority stake in return for its refinery assets. JPMorgan Chase & Co’s commodities division would supply the refinery with crude and non-crude feedstocks and purchase fuel produced by the plant for offtake.

Regional legislators, refinery unions and industry operators lobbied against the plant’s shutdown arguing that fuel shortages in the East Coast after the plant’s potential shutdown could create fuel shortages and hurt U.S. national security.

Mike Mergen/Bloomberg News

Mike Mergen/Bloomberg NewsSunoco Inc.’s Philadelphia Refinery stands on the banks of the Schuykill River in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Capacity: 185,000 BPD
Current Owner: Monroe Energy LLC, a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines
Former Owner: ConocoPhillips, which later spun off its refining and downstream arm Phillips 66 Delta bought the refinery from Conoco Phillips in spring of 2012 in order to control its jet fuel costs, which had reached $12 billion in 2011. The refinery has not yet become profitable But Delta said it expects the plant to turn a profit of $75 million to $100 million in the second quarter. It expects to use 50,000 bpd of cheap shale oil from the Bakken formation in North Dakota by the end of 2013.

Delta has a contract with BP Plc for crude supplies and former owner Phillips 66 to sell or swap products other than the jet fuel that the airline needs.

Jeff Topping/Getty Images

Jeff Topping/Getty Images


Capacity: 68,000 BPD
Current Owner: Varo Energy Holding, a joint venture between Vitol and Marcel Van Poecke, co-founder of PetroPlus, and founder of AtlasInvest.
Former Owner: Petroplus Vitol, the world’s largest oil trader, formed the joint venture to buy the refinery in June 2012, six months after Swiss-based Petroplus filed for insolvency. The refinery was fully operational by July that year.

Capacity: 107,500 bpd
Current Owner: Gunvor, Swiss-based trading house
Seller: PetroPlus Swiss-based trading firm Gunvor, co-owned by Russian tycoon Gennady Timchenko, bought the refinery in March 2012 from insolvent Petroplus to expand its infrastructure footprint in Europe’s largest oil trading hub. The purchase also provides Gunvor with “bricks and mortar” assets, giving it a reason to hedge exposure to physical markets ahead of stringent regulations on derivatives trading.

Jock Fistick/Bloomberg

Jock Fistick/BloombergStorage tanks are seen at the Antwerp oil refinery.


Capacity: 100,000 bpd
Current Owner: Gunvor
Former Owner: PetroPlus Gunvor bought the refinery from insolvent Petroplus in May 2012 and began operating the plant that August. The refinery had been in stand-by mode for seven months before the deal.