Philadelphia’s ‘Prophetic’ Refinery Explosion Finally Extinguished
“It makes no sense to continue handing out massive tax breaks to dangerous refineries like the Philadelphia Energy Solutions facility.”
Philadelphia Energy Solutions, the largest oil refinery on the East Coast, suffered a massive explosion on Friday and ongoing fires through Saturday, according to Philadelphia city officials.
The explosion came only weeks after a June 10 fire at the same facility, drawing protests from residents who live near the refinery and outrage from environmental activists who argued the explosions demonstrate the need to transition away from fossil fuels.
“When we burn fossil fuels, we endanger the air that we breathe and the water that we drink,” said Sunrise Movement founder Varshini Prakash. “When we burn fossil fuels, we endanger our lives. And it’s no coincidence that communities of color and poor communities, like Southwest Philadelphia, are on the frontline of crises like this.”
The refinery is the largest source of pollution in the Philadelphia area. It has also been plagued by financial troubles for years, forced to cut worker benefits and declare bankruptcy to reduce debt.
“I live near the refinery,” one of the protesters told NBC. “I have witnessed it for years, blowing up. This is bad, people. Enough is enough.”
Unsafe Air Quality?
On Sunday, the city issued a statement that the gas valve fueling the fire had been turned off and the last fire had been extinguished. The future of the refinery is unclear, as multiple activist groups and city council members are calling for its closure.
“We will see what the federal and state authorities say, if that’s what is called for that’s what we will do,” Philadelphia’s Mayor Kenney said, in reference to the plant’s potential shutdown.
Philadelphia Fire Department’s hazmat unit and the Department of Public Health have not found anything unsafe in their air quality tests so far, but more extensive testing will take place Monday.
Some air quality experts, such as Peter DeCarlo of Drexel University, believe the smoke from the fire could be dangerous. DeCarlo warned NBC Philadelphia that “immediate exposure can trigger asthma and other issues.”
Demand For Renewable Economy
Critics view Philadelphia Energy Solutions’ repeated fires as one reason to end the subsidization of fossil fuels and move to a clean energy economy.
“Our leaders have chosen to put profits for some of the wealthiest men on Earth over the health and wellbeing of the rest of us,” said Prakash, per Common Dreams. “Unless we change course now and treat the crisis for what it is, we will continue to see more disasters like today.”
Earlier this month, Philadelphia’s city council approved of a $60 million plan to create a new liquified natural gas facility within the vicinity of the beleaguered Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refinery. Many activists and residents are fiercely opposed to constructing more fossil fuel infrastructure with taxpayer funds, with environmental organization PennEnvironment calling the fire “a prophetic reminder of the risks that these facilities pose to our local communities.”
“It makes no sense to continue handing out massive tax breaks to dangerous refineries like the Philadelphia Energy Solutions facility,” said Varshini Prakash. “Instead, we must enact a Green New Deal that transitions us into a 21st-century renewable economy and creates millions of jobs in the process.”