Close Subscribe

Get the Weekly Recap!!

Get recaps, exclusive offers, stories and discounts. We’ll never share your email address and you can opt out at any time, we promise.
What You Need to Know About the Latest PES Refinery Advisory Meetings
Energy

What You Need to Know About the Latest PES Refinery Advisory Meetings

On June 21st, explosions and a fire ripped through the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) Girard Point refinery in South Philly. These seriously damaged the facility, and that same day Mayor Jim Kenney called for an advisory group to begin meeting over issues with the refinery. A month later, PES filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time in two years. Now, over two months after the incident and more than a month after the bankruptcy declaration, Green Philly takes a look at what’s happening in the weekly advisory meetings and dives deeper into the refinery’s history.

The Advisory Group’s First Meeting

The Refinery Advisory Group held its first meeting on Tuesday, August 6th at the Preparatory Charter School on Point Breeze Avenue. Managing Director Brian Abernathy introduced Patrick O’Neill, who presented the advisory group’s mission, agenda, goals, and objectives, as well as the history of the refinery.

Green Philly has provided a synopsis of the facility’s history taken from the first meeting here:

The Refinery’s History

The refinery was born in 1866 when the Atlantic Petroleum Company established the Point Breeze facility. It initially acted as storage for refined oil products, mainly kerosene for oil lamps. Four warehouses were built that could store a total of 50,000 barrels, or 2.1 million gallons. The facility was connected by docks and railroad lines to Western Pennsylvania’s oil fields and refineries.

In 1870 petroleum refining units were installed. Atlantic Petroleum Company became Atlantic Refining Company, and they became the largest employer in Philadelphia. By 1891, an astounding 50% of the world’s lighting fuel and 35% of the country’s oil exports came from the 360-acre Point Breeze facility, which burned 350,000 tons of coal annually to refine 40,000 barrels of petroleum daily.

The facility started producing gasoline for cars in 1915, and aviation fuel in 1918. Gulf Oil, a major global oil corporation, built the terminal at Girard Point in 1920. Eight years later, that facility refined 31,000 barrels (1.3 million gallons) of petroleum a day, and by World War II both facilities were refining 69,000 barrels (2.9 million gallons) daily.

Atlantic Refining Company merged with Richfield Oil Company in California in 1966 to become ARCO, while Gulf Oil was bought by Chevron in 1982, and the Girard Point facility became the Chevron USA Philadelphia refinery. Along came Sunoco, a wholesale distributor of motor fuels, which purchased Point Breeze in 1988 and Girard Point in 1994. A year later, Sunoco combined the two refineries into one complex. The site became the largest refinery on the East coast.

In 2012, Sunoco turned the refinery over to PES. By this time, the refinery had a combined processing capacity of 335,000 barrels (14 million gallons) per day. Sunoco also entered into a Consent Order and Agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and PES to do a voluntary cleanup of soil and ground water contamination. This brings us back to the 2019 fire and explosions and the subsequent meetings.

First Meeting Continued

After O’Neill’s presentation, the meeting was opened to public comment. Members of Philly Thrive, an organization mobilizing to shut down and transition the PES facility site to a more environmentally and health-friendly use, had shown up in numbers in their yellow T-shirts to tell their experiences. Past and present refinery works attended to voice their concern over lost jobs. Residents of the neighboring communities shared their experiences with health problems that they attribute to the refinery’s air pollution. Tensions flared, but there were also those that advocated for an economy that could both produce jobs and protect health and planet.

On August 19th, the city government announced the addition of four people to the Refinery Advisory Group. These additions doubled the size of the Community Committee from four people to eight. This was a direct result of public comments during the first meeting calling for the inclusion of more trusted community leaders and a more racially diverse group membership.

Second Public Meeting: Community Committee

A day after the announcement, the group’s second meeting was held, this time focused on gathering insights from the surrounding communities. Over 100 people filled the school auditorium and discussed future uses for the site. That morning, PES had laid off almost all union workers, except for a small necessary handful. The union workers showed up en masse to the public meeting, hoping that another energy company will end up buying the site and continue to use it as a refinery.

Third Public Meeting: Labor Committee

On Wednesday, August 21st, the Labor Committee hosted the third public meeting. This meeting was dominated by the laid off union refinery workers, who made it clear to the committee that they wanted the site to remain open. Some even booed when community members expressed their disagreement and their wish to see the facility not be used for heavy industry.

One of the Labor Committee’s members, United Steelworkers Local 10-1 president Ryan O’Callaghan, stated that the true number of workers affected in the region would reach well over 30,000 people.

Fourth Public Meeting: Environmental & Academic Committee

Held on August 27th, this meeting explored the environmental consequences and possible future uses of the refinery site. The soil and groundwater surrounding the facility suffers from extensive pollution because of the site’s long history of refinery operations. The majority of this pollution occurred before modern environmental regulations, and it remains expensive, difficult, and time-consuming to remediate.

The refinery has also contributed pollution in a different way: carbon emissions, which contribute to climate change. According to the Department of Health, 20% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions are produced by the refinery. It’s the largest stationary source of air pollution in the city.

Philadelphia residents not only worry about air pollution and its effects on respiratory health. They spoke at length about this need to reduce fossil fuel emissions by building renewable energy infrastructure and turning away from oil, coal, and gas. Pouné Saberi, a physician in occupational and environmental medicine, pushed the idea of turning the refinery into an offshore wind turbine manufacturing, assembly, and maintenance facility.

The fifth and final PES Refinery Advisory Group meeting will be held on September 9th at Preparatory Charter School, and will cover business and economic considerations.


Become a Supporter!

If you love what we do you can support our mission with a one-time or monthly contribution.
array(4) {
  [0]=>
  object(WP_Term)#3855 (10) {
    ["term_id"]=>
    int(290)
    ["name"]=>
    string(12) "fossil fuels"
    ["slug"]=>
    string(12) "fossil-fuels"
    ["term_group"]=>
    int(0)
    ["term_taxonomy_id"]=>
    int(291)
    ["taxonomy"]=>
    string(8) "post_tag"
    ["description"]=>
    string(0) ""
    ["parent"]=>
    int(0)
    ["count"]=>
    int(4)
    ["filter"]=>
    string(3) "raw"
  }
  [1]=>
  object(WP_Term)#3854 (10) {
    ["term_id"]=>
    int(3706)
    ["name"]=>
    string(3) "PES"
    ["slug"]=>
    string(3) "pes"
    ["term_group"]=>
    int(0)
    ["term_taxonomy_id"]=>
    int(3714)
    ["taxonomy"]=>
    string(8) "post_tag"
    ["description"]=>
    string(0) ""
    ["parent"]=>
    int(0)
    ["count"]=>
    int(1)
    ["filter"]=>
    string(3) "raw"
  }
  [2]=>
  object(WP_Term)#3856 (10) {
    ["term_id"]=>
    int(3195)
    ["name"]=>
    string(29) "Philadelphia Energy Solutions"
    ["slug"]=>
    string(29) "philadelphia-energy-solutions"
    ["term_group"]=>
    int(0)
    ["term_taxonomy_id"]=>
    int(3211)
    ["taxonomy"]=>
    string(8) "post_tag"
    ["description"]=>
    string(0) ""
    ["parent"]=>
    int(0)
    ["count"]=>
    int(4)
    ["filter"]=>
    string(3) "raw"
  }
  [3]=>
  object(WP_Term)#3857 (10) {
    ["term_id"]=>
    int(3705)
    ["name"]=>
    string(8) "Refinery"
    ["slug"]=>
    string(8) "refinery"
    ["term_group"]=>
    int(0)
    ["term_taxonomy_id"]=>
    int(3713)
    ["taxonomy"]=>
    string(8) "post_tag"
    ["description"]=>
    string(0) ""
    ["parent"]=>
    int(0)
    ["count"]=>
    int(1)
    ["filter"]=>
    string(3) "raw"
  }
}
Avatar
Madeleine Jones, who goes by her last name, is the Editorial Intern at Green Philly. She is new to Philadelphia and recently graduated from Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, with a bachelor's in Environmental Studies and International Studies. Jones spends her free time with her nose buried in books, sampling Philly's vegan restaurants, fawning over her pet mouse, and filling out job applications. View all posts by Jones

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Green Philly

Featured
In These
Great Spots: