[PHILADELPHIA] The largest refinery on the US East Coast was operating at less than half its capacity late on Saturday because of a fire, a source familiar with the operations said, while plant officials reported the incident as"flaring." A source familiar with operations at Philadelphia Energy Solutions' 335,000 barrels per day (bpd) refinery said a fire had hit the 200,000-bpd crude distillation unit in the larger Girard Point section of the plant, forcing it to shut.
A company spokesperson did not confirm a fire, but said the plant had "experienced cascading operational issues that resulted in flaring with heavy smoke." The incident happened at 3:30 pm ET (2030 GMT) on Saturday, the spokesperson said, adding there were no reports of injuries.
Flaring is used to release flammable gases when a refinery experiences an upset, but does not typically cause excessive black smoke. Local media showed video and images of large flames emitting dark smoke from at least two flares, but there were no visible fires from the refinery's main units.
The source said that the fire, which started when a valve blew out on the crude unit, has been brought under control, but Girard Point could remain shut for "a while".
The spokesperson did not comment on the status of operations but said they were working on "trouble shooting the problem to restore to normal operations." There was no immediate indication of what caused the issues or how long the disruption might continue. The East Coast is in the midst of the coldest stretch so far this winter, and extremely frigid conditions can sometimes disrupt operations.
PES was also slated to carry out maintenance on an acid alkylation unit and other secondary units later this month. It was unclear whether the incident on Saturday was related.
It was the second serious refinery disruption of the day, following an explosion and fire at a secondary unit of Husky Energy's 155,000 bpd crude oil refinery in Lima, Ohio, that forced it to stop production.
While there is no suggestion that the events are related, the two disruptions could trigger gains in US gasoline and diesel prices when markets reopen on Sunday evening, particularly if the Philadelphia plant remains shut for long.
Philadelphia Energy Solutions, owned by a joint venture between the Carlyle Group and Energy Transfer Partners , is a major supplier of fuel on the East Coast and can have a large impact on the New York harbor market, the pricing point for benchmark gasoline and diesel futures.
The Philadelphia plant is the longest continuously operating oil facility in the U.S., according to the company, but it was almost shuttered for good several years ago due to a prolonged slump in operating margins. It was revived, with state and federal support, by a 2012 sale to the Carlyle Group, which has invested in new facilities to tap into the shale boom.
The same crude unit caught fire in May 2012, according to a Reuters report.