Philly Benefits From Energy Boom. But Is It Safe?

City's refineries are working again. But other factors loom.

A series of stories today that paint a big and complex picture: Philadelphia is benefitting from an “energy boom”—refineries in danger of being shuttered a couple of years ago are now back at work. But getting the raw materials here—oil and gas—remains a tricky, even scary proposition.

Let’s start with NPR, and its  story:

KATIE COLANERI, BYLINE: Two years ago, the energy business in Philadelphia was in trouble. Oil refineries that had been around for more than a century were on the verge of shutting down. Hundreds of workers were getting pink slips. At the time, John Clark had just been elected business manager of the local boilermakers union. Performing regular maintenance in the refineries was a reliable paycheck for a lot of his members.

JOHN CLARK: They were scared. How are we going to feed our families? How are we going to survive?

COLANERI: But fast-forward two years, things are looking up.


COLANERI: Last fall, workers in blue jumpsuits applauded as a train hauling 120 black tanker cars full of crude oil from North Dakota pulled into the 140-year-old refinery complex in South Philadelphia. Today, the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery is the single-largest consumer of North Dakota crude oil. But CEO Phil Rinaldi says there’s something missing.

PHIL RINALDI: What we don’t have right now is the copious quantities of Marcellus gas. It sits 150 miles away.

StateImpact has news, in fact, about the productivity of gas wells in the Marcellus shale:

On a per-rig basis, Marcellus gas production is surpassing other major shale plays in the United States, according to an analysis from the Energy Information Administration.

When it comes to overall production, Pennsylvania’s shale wells continue to break records. During the last six months of 2013, the state produced 1.7 trillion cubic feet of gas, or an average of 9.2 billion cubic feet per day – enough to satisfy about an eighth of the nation’s daily natural gas demand

 Getting stuff from there to here, though, is a process that is under increasing scrutiny, NewsWorks reports:

In January, seven freight cars carrying crude oil and sand derailed on a bridge over the city’s Schuylkill River. No one was injured, but the accident shone a spotlight on CSX, which owns the structure.

Quintin Kendall, a CSX vice president, said the bridge is structurally sound. But he admits that the company could do a better job in maintaining the external concrete.

“When I visited the 25th Street structure with Councilman Johnson today,” said Kendall, “it reinforced what we had been discussing for several months at CSX, that the structure clearly presents CSX with public safety challenges and we need to do a much better job at addressing those.”

 PlanPhilly adds:

As a result of the January 20 CSX train derailment on the Schuylkill Arsenal Railroad Bridge, the City’s Office of Emergency Management will soon be able to log into freight rail company CSX’s software and see what materials CSX is moving through Philadelphia’s freight network and exactly where those materials are. 

The City’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) has always had the ability to call CSX and ask for information regarding the freight cargo passing through Philadelphia. Soon though, the city’s OEM will have access to CSX’s SecureNOW system which offers real-time information about hazardous materials shipping through Philadelphia.

The agreement, which was prompted by the derailment, is being reviewed by the city’s law department. If it is approved, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. will be the only cities in the country with this kind of real-time access to SecureNOW.

More debates—including the discussion of pipeline building—to come.