Updated: Oct 18, 2019
September 25th, the Philadelphia Energy solution (PES) advisory group held its final meeting at The Preparatory Charter School regarding the Philadelphia oil refinery explosion that happened on June 21st this past summer. The sum of feedback and opinions from the past 3 meetings were presented on poster boards for public viewing. Each of the past meetings focused on a specific aspect of the explosion’s consequence as it relates to the community (businesses, citizens, and the environment), and featured both professional analyses and public opinions.
A diverse pool of community speakers brought different perspectives to the discussion. A past employee and member of the United Steelworkers trade union pointed out the charitable work the refinery does annually and the huge sums of tax revenue it brings to the local community. He brought up how employees have always stood by changes made for environmental protection and never against them.
However, the majority of speakers saw that the incident existed as a key opportunity to bring renewables into the Philadelphia community. Many community members believe that the site should be used as a solar or wind farm. Former physics professor from the University of Pennsylvania, Kenneth Lande, believed the site could potentially be a manufacturing plant for components of an off-shore wind farms. Joel Thomas, Vice President of Development, East at Community Energy, Inc had a similar idea in using the site to produce components of a solar farm that could be stationed in rural Pennsylvania. Other potential uses included storage warehouse, biofuel production plant, and petrochemical manufacturing.
Though these older meetings showed differences in opinions regarding the future of the site, this final meeting highlighted agreements on key points such as the importance of keeping the community safe and healthy, the obligation of ongoing site monitoring, and the necessity for communication between the company and the community.
Furthermore, there is an overwhelming consensus that residents and taxpayers should not be paying the cost of remediation and cleanup. Residents were also able to add additional comments via posted notes to the boards to ensure that as many concerns as possible can be addressed when making the final recommendation.
Citizens passion for the community could be clearly seen through local activist groups. During the final meeting, environmental group PhillyThrive highlighted the negative effects on public health the refinery has created. Demonstrators drop to the ground while holding signs with various diseases generally associated with environmental pollutants such as heart disease and cancer. The group ended the exhibition by marching out of the meeting while singing a song reminding us to think about future generations when making this final decision.
An explosion at 3:00 AM caused by a malfunctioning butane vent engulfed the 1300 acre refinery into flames and rocked nearby homes in the South Philadelphia and Jersey area. There had already been a small fire less than a month earlier, and less than a month later, PES filed for bankruptcy; the second time in less than 1.5 years. Closing the refinery led to 2000 employees being laid off and the loss of an incredible source of income for both the City and Commonwealth of Philadelphia. A total of 63.2 million in taxes was collected from the refinery annually.
At this time, PES has no more scheduled open meetings. No future actions have yet been discussed, however Co-chair Brian Abernathy says we can expect a full detailed report regarding the findings of the refinery and recommendations for developers posted online by the end of the year.