What the 'Fossil Fuel Economy Looks Like': Demands for Climate Justice After Explosion Rocks Philly Oil Refinery

Video captured the explosion that took place at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in Philadelphia early Friday morning. (Screengrab via @ChristneMattson)

What the 'Fossil Fuel Economy Looks Like': Demands for Climate Justice After Explosion Rocks Philly Oil Refinery

"Unless we change course now and treat the crisis for what it is, we will continue to see more disasters like today."

Climate advocates reiterated their calls to ditch the fossil fuel economy on Friday following an explosion at an oil refinery complex in Philadelphia that sent a fireball into the sky.

"The largest blast was so strong," reported local NBC10, "that the GOES-16 meteorological satellite recorded it from space."

Per Reuters:

"It was the worst I've ever experienced," said a veteran refinery worker who was at the plant when the fire broke out.

"It looked like a nuclear bomb went off. I thought we were all going to die."

The flames erupted at roughly 4 am at Philadelphia Energy Solutions's (PES) refinery complex, which triggered a temporary shelter-in-place order.

Philadelphia Fire Department Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy, speaking to the press at about 7am, said that a vat of butane had caught fire, though the company later said that it was "mostly propane," that was burning.

"PES said there were three separate explosions that 'impacted' a unit that produces alkylate, which is used to boost gasoline octane," the Philadelphia Inquirerreported. Four workers suffered mild injured and were treated on-site, the company added.

"The refinery processes approximately 335,000 barrels of crude oil per day (42 U.S. gallons per barrel), making it the largest oil refining complex on the U.S. Eastern seaboard," the company website states, adding that the facility "strives to be a good neighbor in our surrounding community."

It is also "the largest single source of particulate pollution in the Philadelphia area even when there isn't an emergency," NBC10 reported.

Friday's blaze was the second fire at the refinery this month; the other took place June 10, as ABC6noted.

"I believe that there is room for improvement, both in the operation of the refinery in light of two fires in as many weeks, and in the communication to residents," Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement Friday.

Climate campaigners are looking for more than just improvements in operations.

"Explosions like this are what the fossil fuel economy looks like," said Varshini Prakash of the Sunrise Movement.

"When we burn fossil fuels, we endanger the air that we breathe and the water that we drink," she said. "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."

Those communities are fed up.

As local environmental justice group Philly Thrive pointed out Friday, a danger exists not just when refinery explosions grab headlines.

"Do you know how scared I was this morning to be shaken out of my sleep by the explosion?" said Sonya Sanders, a Philadelphia resident and member of Philly Thrive. "I do everything I can to close my windows and keep this pollution out of my house. But when these fires happen it shows there really is nothing we can do to protect ourselves."

"Enough is enough," continued Sanders. "We have to act before half the people in South and Southwest Philly are dead."

"We have the right to breathe clean air," added Philly Thrive member Sylvia Bennett, "and we need to hold the refinery accountable for what they're putting out into the community."

To jump-start such action, lawmakers should pass the Green New Deal legislation, said Sunrise's Prakash, and stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry which is fueling the climate crisis.

"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. "Unless we change course now and treat the crisis for what it is, we will continue to see more disasters like today."

"It makes no sense to continue handing out massive tax breaks to dangerous refineries like the Philadelphia Energy Solutions facility," she continued. "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."

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