Philadelphia oil refinery to shut down following fire

Article by Amanda Jasi

Philadelphia Energy Solutions

REFINERY owner Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) has announced that it is to permanently close its oil refinery in Philadelphia, US, following a fire which caused substantial damage, reports Reuters.

With a production capacity of 335,000 bbl/d of crude oil PES claims that the 150-year-old Philadelphia refinery complex is the largest oil refining complex on the US East Coast.

According to The Washington Post (TWP), a fire broke out at the complex at about 04:00 local time on 21 June, “triggering several explosions and sending flames high into the sky”. The fire burned for two days, reported local media outlet NBC 10 News. TWP adds that four people suffered minor injuries and were treated at the scene, according to PES Public Affairs and Communications Director Cherice Chorley.

Reuters reports that the fire destroyed a 30,000 bbl/d unit which uses hydrofluoric acid (HF) to process refined products, adding that had the acid caught fire it would have created a vapour that could damage the skin, eyes, and lungs.

Local magazine Philadelphia reported a statement by PES CEO Mark Smith, who said that the decision to close the complex was “difficult”, but that the recent fire made it “impossible” to continue operations.

According to Philadelphia more than 1,000 jobs will be lost, but Reuters reports that Ryan O’Callaghan, President of the local United Steelworkers union, estimated “tens of thousands of jobs” would be lost, taking into account contractors and other businesses which rely on the plant. He said the closure would be “a massive blow to the local economy”. Reuters adds that according to sources, about 100 non-union employees would lose their jobs immediately, with a “significant” number of the 700 union employees expected to lose their jobs in mid-July.

Local media organisation WHYY reports that PES has committed to paying workers affected by the closure through 25 August.

An investigation into the fire is underway.

Hydrogen fluoride can exist as a colourless gas or a fuming liquid or it can be dissolved in water to form hydrofluoric acid, a highly toxic chemical which can cause injury or death at a concentration of 30 ppm. The acid can be used as a catalyst to produce high octane gasoline through alkylation. Alkylation is used to convert isobutane and low-molecular-weight alkenes into alkylate, a high-octane component. The process is carried out in the presence of a strong acid, such as hydrofluoric acid.

Earlier this year, the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board called on the US  Environmental Protection Agency to review and update its 1993 study of hydrofluoric acid to improve safety.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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