TEHRAN (Press Shia Agency) – Neighbors have protested the Philadelphia Energy Solutions Inc’s oil refinery and wondered about its safety after a unit involved in a massive fire on Friday was completely destroyed.
Major units in the Point Breeze section of the plant were also shut down due to unrelated repairs, sources told Reuters.
The fire incident will hamper the supply of gasoline from the US East Coast’s largest refinery, sources familiar with the matter said on Sunday.
Even when the Girard Point section restarts, it will run at reduced rates due to the loss of the alkylation unit that was destroyed in the fire, two sources told Reuters on Sunday.
It could take several years for the company to rebuild the unit.
The PES refinery is the largest on the East Coast. The 150-year-old industrial plant is known as the largest single source of particulate pollution in the Philadelphia area even when there isn’t an emergency, NBS Philadelphia reports.
Neighbors have protested the refinery and wondered about its safety. A group called Philly Thrive gathered again Friday at City Hall after protesting the same refinery earlier this month following a small fire at PES.
“I have witnessed it for years, blowing up,” one protestor, who lives near the refinery, said. “This is bad, people. Enough is enough.”
The fire, which began in a tank and involved several explosions that sent a huge fireball into the sky, engulfing the surrounding areas in smoke early on Friday morning, was extinguished Saturday afternoon, the Philadelphia Fire Department said on Sunday in a statement.
The gas valve that had been fueling the fire was shut off, and the tank involved in the blaze was isolated, the fire department said.
The department’s hazmat unit and Philadelphia’s department of public health are continuing to monitor the air quality around the refinery.
A source familiar with plant operations said one explosion occurred at the 30,000 bpd alkylation unit that uses hydrofluoric acid (HF), one of the deadliest chemicals in the refining business and a source of controversy for its use to make high-octane gasoline at refineries located in densely populated areas.
Hydrofluoric acid can form a toxic cloud at room temperature, with exposure leading to severe health problems and even death.
PES confirmed the fire at the alkylation unit has been extinguished and that the company and a third party are monitoring the air quality insider the facility each hour.
Philadelphia Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy said in a press conference on Friday that the cause of the fire was unclear.
Federal officials including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board on Monday will begin an investigation into the cause and origin of the fire, according to the fire department statement.
Four workers were injured and treated on-site, according to a company statement, while city emergency workers treated one person, who did not need to go to a hospital.
The fire comes as the company has faced financial headwinds. Philadelphia Energy Solutions emerged from bankruptcy last year, after filing because of the costs of complying with the US Renewable Fuel Standard, a 2005 law that requires refiners to either blend biofuels into their product or purchase credits from competitors who do.
The refinery has been financially struggling since then.