The alkylation unit involved in a massive fire on Friday that injured five workers at Philadelphia Energy Solutions Inc.’s oil refinery has been completely destroyed.
The destruction of the unit, coupled with damage from the fire that raced through the 335,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) refining complex, could force the 200,000 bpd Girard Point section of the two-section complex to remain shut for an extended period.
Major units in the Point Breeze section of the plant were also shut down due to unrelated repairs, sources said in a Reuters report.
Even when the Girard Point section restarts, it will run at reduced rates due to the loss of the alkylation unit, two sources told Reuters Sunday.
It could take several years for the company to rebuild the unit.
The refiner emerged from bankruptcy roughly a year ago and has embarked on a number of cash-saving measures in recent months. It will also have to contend with growing concern from the local community and public officials over whether it can safely operate amid its financial woes.
The fire, which began in a tank early Friday morning and involved several explosions that sent a huge fireball into the sky, engulfing the surrounding areas in smoke, was extinguished Saturday afternoon, the Philadelphia Fire Department said on Sunday.
The gas valve that had been fueling the fire was shut off, and the tank involved in the blaze was isolated, the fire department said.
The department’s HazMat unit and Philadelphia’s department of public health are continuing to monitor the air quality around the refinery.
A source familiar with plant operations said one explosion occurred at the 30,000 bpd alkylation unit that uses hydrofluoric acid (HF), one of the deadliest chemicals in the refining business and a source of controversy for its use to make high-octane gasoline at refineries located in densely populated areas.
Hydrofluoric acid can form a toxic cloud at room temperature, with exposure leading to severe health problems and even death.
PES confirmed the fire at the alkylation unit has been extinguished and the company and a third party are monitoring the air quality inside the facility each hour.
Philadelphia Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy said the cause of the fire was unclear.
Federal officials including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board on Monday will begin an investigation into the cause and origin of the fire, according to the fire department statement.
Four workers were injured and treated on-site, according to a company statement, while city emergency workers treated one person, who did not need to go to a hospital.