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PHILADELPHIA — The largest refinery on the East Coast began the process of closing down Wednesday with more than 100 employees laid off immediately and hundreds more expected to lose their jobs by mid-July.

Mayor Jim Kenney confirmed Wednesday that Philadelphia Energy Solutions is shutting down in the wake of a massive explosion and fire there last week, impacting “hundreds” of Delaware County workers, according to county officials.

“I’m extremely disappointed for the more than one thousand workers who will be immediately impacted by this closure, as well as other businesses that are dependent on the refinery operations,” Kenney said in a statement. “The city is committed to supporting them during this difficult time in any way possible. We will immediately convene a group of city and quasi-governmental organizations to discuss the economic and employment impacts, and what the city is able to do in response.”

PES CEO Mark Smith said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that the fire made it “impossible” to continue operations at the refinery, despite the top-notch talent employed there.

“We are grateful that the fire resulted in only a few minor injuries,” said Smith. “I want to thank our employees for their hard work and dedication and to thank the Philadelphia community for their support. We are committed to an orderly process to safely wind down our operations. As part of the wind-down, the company will position the refinery complex for a sale and restart."

One refinery worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said he didn't find out until getting word from his boss.

"My foreman came in and said, 'This is true, we're going to be shutting down,'" the employee said.

The explosion occurred shortly before dawn Friday at the 150-year-old Girard Point refinery, shaking nearby homes and sending a fireball into the sky that was visible to infrared weather satellites, according to the National Weather Service. The fire continued burning until Saturday afternoon.

The blaze started at a tank containing a mix of butane and propane around 4 a.m., followed by a series of three explosions that could be felt miles away, according to the Associated Press. Five refinery workers were treated for minor injuries but there were no other casualties. Kenney assured residents Tuesday that air samples showed there were no public safety issues regarding released gasses.

Reuters News Agency reported Tuesday that sources at PES said the company decided to close up shop following the disaster. It was the second fire at the refinery complex this month. The first came June 10 at the nearby Point Breeze section with no injuries reported.

Kenney had initially convened a task force headed by Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel and Philadelphia Managing Director Brian Abernathy to investigate the cause of the fires and perform outreach to residents, but said Wednesday that was being “retooled” to focus more on determining the future of the refinery, assisting PES on transitioning the site safely, communicating with local residents and supporting refinery employees.

The decision to close came one day after Thiel launched an investigation into the cause of the fire with the help of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

Elected officials across the state were quick to weigh in on the  announcement. Gov. Tom Wolf called it “devastating news” for PES employees and their families, and vowed to provide assistance though the Department of Labor & Industry’s Rapid Response Coordination Services.

“These are skilled and hardworking people who helped to prevent the fire from doing more damage,” said Wolf in a release. “They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect by a company that has profited from their labor. I expect the company to take care of these workers first before prioritizing their own further profits.”

“My thoughts and sympathies are with the hardworking employees who are losing their jobs,” said U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa. “In the coming weeks, I hope a viable option will come to the forefront to stave off this closure. My office intends to remain engaged with PES workers and management.”

Workers at the refinery said about half of the 700 United Steelworker Union employees there live in Delaware County. One worker said anywhere from 100 to 150 salary people were immediately fired Wednesday, which will be followed by half or more of the hourly people being laid off by July 12.

"They cashed out our vacation and didn't even tell us," the employee said.

Confirmation of the closure came hours after news that Hahnemann University Hospital announced it would also shut down operations at the end of August. Combined, the two closures could mean the loss of as many as 4,000 jobs for the city and region.

Wolf indicated a team of RRCS specialists was reaching out to local officials and business representatives Wednesday to offer services. The RRCS team typically schedules informational meetings with the employer and affected workers in such situations to provide information about services like unemployment insurance, health and pension benefits, training programs and job search activities, according to the release.

U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5 of Swarthmore, also said Wednesday that her office has reached out to Kenney, PES and other elected officials to ensure workers and their families are supported and protected.

“We’ve been in touch with United Steelworkers and local labor leaders, and are planning to convene a community listening session in the coming days,” she said. “We will be sure to notify workers, local elected officials, and the community of this event once details are finalized.”

Scanlon said her office has also contacted the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, the Environmental Protection Agency, the ATF and OSHA to ensure investigations into the fire are thorough and will not be impacted by the closure.

“These investigations are critical for understanding the causes of the incident, the health and safety implications, and help to inform future policy,” Scanlon said. “I strongly believe in transparency and accountability. Once these investigations are complete, parties found responsible must be held accountable and appropriate actions must be taken to remedy this situation and the impact this incident has had on the workers and our region.”

Not everyone was upset with the refinery’s closure, however. PennEnvironment Executive Director David Masur said in a statement that closing the plant was “certainly the right step” in addressing climate and health concerns.

"The explosion and ensuing fire at Philadelphia Energy Solutions was a stark reminder of what local residents, environmental groups like PennEnvironment, and health professionals have been saying for a long time: Dangerous fossil fuels, and the refineries that house them, put our health, environment, and communities at risk,” said Masur. “We understand that there are hard decisions to make and that the loss of jobs will be difficult. But it’s time to start the transition process and move Philadelphia to a clean energy future, while ensuring that the workers displaced by this closure are properly compensated and protected.”

The PES refinery started as a bulk petroleum storage facility in 1866 and began refinery operations in 1870. The company had processed approximately 335,000 barrels of crude oil per day for products including gasoline, jet fuel and propane.

Formerly owned by the Carlyle Group and Sunoco Logistics, the company emerged from federal bankruptcy court last year after restructuring its debt, leaving its majority ownership in the hands of investment banking firms Credit Suisse Asset Management and Bardin Hill.

AAA reported earlier this week that crude prices for the week ending June 14 were down from last year, despite demand hitting a record 9.93 million barrels per day, the highest level recorded since the Energy Information Administration began publishing data in 1991

A release from AAA Wednesday indicated the refinery closure would likely impact gas prices in and around the region, however, though it is too early to know to what extent.

“Motorists in the region will likely continue to see modest increases in pump prices – especially leading up to what is expected to be a high-demand travel period for the Fourth of July,” said Jana L. Tidwell, manager of public and government affairs at AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Tidwell noted gasoline stocks from Canada, neighboring refineries and the Colonial Pipeline have been identified as short-term solutions to help backfill supply, but the long-term viability of that plan is as yet unknown.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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