Massive Overnight Fire and Explosions at Philadelphia Refinery; No Significant Injuries Reported

Reuters, June 21, 2019

Firefighters are battling a massive fire at Philadelphia Energy Solutions’ refinery in Philadelphia that has resulted in several explosions but caused no significant injuries, the company said on Friday. The fire began early Friday morning in a butane vat at the 335,000 barrel-per-day refinery, according to the Philadelphia Fire Department’s twitter feed and a company statement.

Video footage shows a later explosion that sent a massive fireball into the sky, engulfing the refinery and the surrounding area in smoke. Aerial video of the scene aired on local television showed the complex engulfed in flames and significant damage.

“Refinery emergency response crews and the Philadelphia Fire Department are attempting to bring the fire under control. We are in the process of accounting for all personnel. There were no significant injuries,” a company spokeswoman said.

The refinery is the largest and oldest on the U.S. East Coast; there has been a plant on the site since 1870. A veteran refinery worker who was at the plant when the fire broke out said, “It was the worst I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “It looked like a nuclear bomb went off. I thought we were all going to die.

The worker, who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said there were two separate explosions.

One explosion occurred at an 30,000 bpd alkylation unit that uses hydrofluoric acid, one of the deadliest chemicals in the refining business, a source familiar with plant operations said. Police closed roadways surrounding the refining complex, the company spokeswoman added, and the city’s fire department briefly ordered residents to shelter in place out of precaution.

About 120 firefighters responded to the three-alarm fire, Philadelphia’s deputy fire commissioner, Craig Murphy, said in a media briefing. He said one employee who was working in the area of the butane vat complained of chest pains but did not need treatment. Butane is a liquid petroleum gas used as fuel and in production of petrochemicals.

News of the explosion caused gasoline futures traded on NYMEX to spike 4.8 percent.

The incident comes as the refiner is struggling financially, slashing worker benefits and scaling back capital projects to save cash. If the damage is significant, there will be questions as to whether the company has enough money to rebuild.

A fire broke out on June 10 at the same refinery, which according to a source familiar with operations affected a 50,000-barrels-per-day catalytic cracking unit.

(Reporting by Nallur Sethuraman, Arpan Varghese, and Jarrett Renshaw; Additional reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Dale Hudson and Steve Orlofsky)

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