Updates After South Philly Refinery Fire on June 21

Photo:  South Philly activist Sylvia Bennett of  Philly Thrive (center) protests outside the entrance to the Phila. Energy  Solutions Plant on Passayunk Avenue after the massive explosions there on the  morning of June 21.  “It was ‘boom,  boom, boom’ and I was rocked out of my bed!” she said.  Philly Thrive spokesperson Alexa Ross  (right) gets the message across to a TV10 reporter.
Photo: South Philly activist Sylvia Bennett of Philly Thrive (center) protests outside the entrance to the Phila. Energy Solutions Plant on Passayunk Avenue after the massive explosions there on the morning of June 21. “It was ‘boom, boom, boom’ and I was rocked out of my bed!” she said. Philly Thrive spokesperson Alexa Ross (right) gets the message across to a TV10 reporter.

  By Ted Behr

Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) has announced a six-week extension to pay workers through August 25th while preparing the plant for resale.  This news affects about 1,000 employees.

On July 21, many Southwest residents were rudely jolted awake at about 4:00 a.m. by three violent explosions at the Girard Point petrochemical refining installation operated by Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES).   The sounding of PES sirens around the So. Philly area at 5:30 a.m. alerted store and home occupants to “shelter in place” after closing windows and doors.   

As air tests by City health authorities soon indicated the smoke did not represent a breathing threat, the “all-clear” was given several hours later.  Southwest was benefitted by the eastward direction of the fresh morning wind which blew the smoke over South Philly toward New Jersey.

The fire was brought under control through the prompt efforts of PES’s own fire crew assisted by the city firefighters and the Coast Guard. Gas from ruptured pipes was still smoldering the day after the explosion. The Fire Department was able to deploy its fireboat on the Schuylkill River adjacent to the fire.  

Spokesperson Alexa Ross of the Philly Thrive activist organization insisted that “These two fires in June are the direct result of long-time corporate mismanagement.  We applaud workers who made sure the accident was not the catastrophe it could have been.” Philly Thrive has been fighting for the city and the state to apply better oversight of the refining process and assure safe and healthy working conditions for refinery personnel and the surrounding community.  

Philly Thrive also agitates for the government to curb our dependence on fossil fuels which scientists say is polluting our air and water and causing climate change.  Regarding the PES refineries, it points out the danger inherent in processing petrochemicals in a crowded urban setting and basically wants the facilities to be shut down. Philly Thrive may get its wish: PES indicated June 25 its intention to close the two local plants – at a cost of 1000 jobs! This may take a number of years, however, they said.

According to city managing director Brian Abernathy, the incident raises many questions: “Is the refinery safe?  Does PES have measures in place to prevent a catastrophe? Was the city’s response and the PES response adequate and appropriate?” He indicated that a task force of city officials was meeting to examine these issues and a public meeting would be held toward the end of July.   

The PES refinery is the largest on the U.S. East Coast and processes some 335,000 barrels of crude oil a day into gasoline, jet fuel, and other petroleum-based substances.    For more information about PES, visit https://pes-companies.com.

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