By Dustin Slaughter
A smaller fire occurred at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery earlier today. This marks the second incident in four days.
Between January and April of this year, Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) was cited for 20 separate air quality violations, according to a seven page “Notice of Violation” obtained by The Declaration.
The continued danger the refinery poses to surrounding communities was highlighted this weekend when a pump sparked a fire, marking the third ‘flare-up’ this year alone.
The Notice of Violation (NOV) is based on mandatory refinery malfunction reports submitted by PES to the Department of Public Health’s Air Management Services division in January, February, March, and April. The document details the dates and times when the east coast’s largest oil refinery violated its operating permit, as well as legally permissible pollution amounts.
In an emailed statement to The Declaration, city spokesperson Jeff Moran claimed “the violations cited in this NOV are not considered serious,” adding that “a review of the air pollution data for various air monitors located in and around South Philadelphia showed no anomalous increase of air pollutants on the days that the violations occurred.”
Considering the over 20 violations his agency charged the refinery company with, AMS’ statement is surprisingly muted. Moran states the company will be meeting with the city “in the near future” to discuss the latest round of infractions.
Moran also claimed that “the conditions that led to the cited violations [at] the Philadelphia Refinery have been corrected.”
That last assurance is clearly premature, however. A pump fire at the refinery this past Friday sent thick black smoke billowing into South Philadelphia, prompting renewed fears from area residents.
Neighbors told NBC 10 they could “immediately smell the blaze” and that “a large fire is always in the back of their minds.”
“I think about it all the time, you know, that it’s gonna blow up,” one South Philly resident told NBC reporter Randy Gyllenhaal. “It’s scary, you know? Any fire is scary.”
The Environmental Protection Agency has established rules setting limits on the amount of “criteria pollutants,” such as carbon monoxide, that refineries are permitted to release into the air. These rules are known as National Ambient Air Quality Standards. According to the federal agency’s website, the hourly ‘safe’ limit for carbon monoxide – a pollutant repeatedly mentioned in the PES violation notice – is 35 parts per million (ppm). The document indicates that for three hours alone on March 21st, “hourly concentrations ranged from 643 ppm to 1,000 ppm.” [emphasis mine].
That is just one of nine carbon monoxide breaches contained in the notice.
EPA Region III monitor Paul Wentworth did not respond to repeated requests for comment regarding any aspect of this story.
The company, led by CEO Phillip Rinaldi – who also serves as an economic policy advisor for Democratic mayoral nominee Jim F. Kenney – submitted what is known as an Initial Public Offering (IPO) in February. If successful, the move would secure hundreds of millions of dollars from Wall Street to greatly expand refinery operations in South Philly, as part of a ‘vision’ for transforming Philadelphia into a major ‘energy hub’. It is unclear whether the latest round of violations will impact PES expansion plans, if at all.
Due to its recent IPO, the company is prohibited from offering any comment regarding its operations, although Friday’s accident apparently forced the company to tell NBC 10: “Mechanical failures caused a charge pump to ignite.”