What to Know
- About 4 a.m. June 21, a mixture of butane and propane ignited a fire that caused three explosions.
- U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon says state and federal investigators with five agencies still haven't examined the blast site.
- More than 1,000 employees of the facility are set to lose their jobs if the refinery closes.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated after U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and the refinery owner's CEO announced pay for workers will continue until Aug. 25.
Investigators still haven't even been able to access the explosion site of the South Philadelphia refinery where blasts stirred the entire region June 21.
But U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon took a tour Tuesday of a portion of the facility owned by Philadelphia Energy Solutions with the leader of the steel workers' union representing 1,000 workers at the plant.
"PES can’t walk away from this," Scanlon said. "They can’t walk away from the workers. They can’t walk away from the community without making sure that things are safe."
On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, said he talked with the refinery owner and been assured that workers will receive pay through Aug. 25.
"I have just secured a commitment from Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) to pay workers through the end of August," Casey said, noting he appealed directly to PES CEO Mark Smith. "I will continue to monitor the situation and advocate on behalf of workers and families."
Ryan O'Callaghan, president of the union, stands to lose his job along with the rest of the workers if plans by PES to close the refinery move ahead. He has worked at the facility for 13 years.
Asked what he would do if PES does shutter operations, he said, "I really haven’t thought that over. We’re still in the fight. When that’s over, my wife and I will sit down and figure out where to go."
PES said in a statement a week after the explosion that the damage done "made it impossible" to continue operations.
During an earlier interview with NBC10 three days after the blasts, Mayor Jim Kenney gave no indication he knew a shutdown was imminent despite saying that his administration kept in daily contact with PES senior officials.
"You have to remember: we want people to be safe first and foremost. But there are a lot of jobs there," Kenney said when asked if he would like to see a drawdown of the refinery's operations.
"There’s a lot of decent paying jobs there and we can’t just discount that. We have to figure out what happened, why it happened, what we can put in place to prevent it from happening again and we’ll see what the future brings."
The next day, news broke that the 150-year-old refinery would be sold, and Kenney said he was "disappointed" that so many workers would lose their jobs.
"The City is committed to supporting them during this difficult time in any way possible," Kenney said in a statement Wednesday.
To alleviate some of the economic burden, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced that the Department of Labor & Industry activated its Rapid Response Coordination Services to assist PES employees. The team was expected to connect workers with unemployment insurance, training programs, job search activities and other social service programs.
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Kenney also said that Philadelphia officials will convene a group of "quasi-governmental organizations" to look at the economic repercussions of shutting down the refinery.
The Philadelphia Fire Department and the city's managing director will also lead efforts to determine the future of the site.
The refinery is the largest on the East Coast, and the sudden announcement of its closure is likely to have an effect on the U.S. markets. Within hours of the explosion, gasoline futures jumped 3.5%.
The fire burned for two days until plant staff were able to turn off a valve that sent fuel into an alkylation unit. City fire officials and the refinery's private fire brigade let the fire burn to avoid the uncontrolled release of explosive gas into the atmosphere.
Philadelphia Fire Department Commissioner Adam Thiel said most of the fuel burned was similar to what fuels gas barbecue grills.
Pictures: South Philadelphia Refinery Explosion and Fire
The refinery complex, which is split into two refineries and dates back to the 1800s — producing gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other fuel. It is the single largest cause of particulate pollution in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia Energy Solutions emerged from bankruptcy protection in October 2018. At the time, the limited liability company owed the local and state government more than $3 billion. The amounts were negotiated down to tens of thousands of dollars.