City Releases Report Evaluating the PES Refinery
Proposes Recommendations to Future Site Operators

PHILADELPHIA – The City of Philadelphia today released, “A Close Call and an Uncertain Future: An assessment of the past, present, and next steps for Philadelphia’s largest refinery.” The report was authored by Managing Director Brian Abernathy and Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel, who served as co-chairs of the Refinery Advisory Group, established after the explosion and fire at the PES Refinery on June 21, 2019.

“Due to the vitally important public safety concerns that were heightened after the incident at the refinery this year, having a public conversation to sort through outstanding issues and opportunities was extremely important,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “I thank the members of the Refinery Advisory Group for organizing a process that allowed City leaders to learn about the refinery from the points of view of all stakeholders, especially from those most directly impacted by the refinery—nearby residents and PES employees.”

The report is available here. It provides:

  • A summary of the information, perspectives, and concerns that the City heard through the Advisory Group process.
  • The factual context behind the history of the refinery, along with its positive and negative impacts.
  • Clarification on the role of Philadelphia City government in defining the future of the site.
  • Responses to some of the common questions that emerged throughout the Advisory Group process.
  • Recommendations around a set of values for the future use of the site as well as operational recommendations for the City to implement as the future for the refinery site becomes clearer.

“The refinery has been a significant part of Philadelphia’s economic landscape for more than 150 years, yet it remains controversial,” said Managing Director Brian Abernathy. “Unlike many employers, the refinery sits at the intersection of many different public and private interests—most of which are inherently in conflict with one another. The very presence of a large oil refinery in our City raises a series of valid questions, therefore it was important that City government understand all of these perspectives as the future of the site unfolds so we can prepare for a variety of possible outcomes.”

Throughout the summer, the Advisory Group hosted six public meetings with hundreds of participants who shared feedback on how the closure of the PES facility will affect Philadelphia’s economy, environment, and public health and safety. This report was informed by more than 115 comments received at those meetings via story stations, public testimony, and written feedback, as well as extensive written testimony and remarks that were submitted at Presentations and videos from those meetings are also available online.

“Thanks to the efforts of the PES fire brigade, the quick actions of the highly trained staff on duty at the refinery, and the Philadelphia Fire Department, the incident and its immediate impacts were contained on the refinery property without serious injuries to refinery workers, first responders, or community members,” said Fire Commissioner Adam K. Thiel. “However, the incident raised serious questions and concerns in the minds of many regarding the refinery.”

The future of the refinery site, which is privately owned, will be largely determined through the ongoing federal bankruptcy process, which is not overseen by the City. While the report does not recommend a specific future use for the refinery site, it includes a series of recommendations for both City government and future site owners to improve the site’s impacts on the city and surrounding communities. Among these recommendations, the City should:

  • Strengthen regulations of Hydrofluoric Acid (HF) and other chemicals in a way that minimizes the level of risks posed to surrounding communities.
  • Evaluate the City’s air monitoring system to ensure that the City is better prepared to quickly identify hazards and protect people from them.
  • Review its existing planning and response capabilities around hazardous materials more broadly.
  • Encourage the site to have a more positive impact on the environment than it has in the past through enhanced pollution control, development of renewable energy, and continued wastewater treatment activities.
  • Ensure the future use of the site plans for climate resiliency.
  • Consider providing easements or access along the river to accommodate these planned future extensions of the Schuylkill River Trail southward—which would greatly enhance the accessibility and connectivity of this valued public amenity.

The public can share feedback by emailing