Philadelphia Energy Solutions officials' decision to shut the refinery down has wide-reaching ripples from jobs indirectly related to the industry to the cost of groceries, adding up to a multi-billion economic impact if the facility is permanently shuttered.
On June 21, the 335,000 barrel per day facility experienced a fire and explosion in one of its units. There were no fatalities and the damage was contained to that unit. Five days later, PES officials announced they were shutting the refinery down.
"The economic impact is going to spread far and wide," Ryan O'Callaghan, president of the United Steelworkers Union Local 10-1 representing approximately 700 PES employees, said. "We just can't find jobs around the corner. It's a specialty occupation."
The union leader referenced a 2017 analysis completed by Alex Holcomb of the University of Texas at El Paso.
Using data culled by Pennsylvania's Center for Workforce Information & Analysis, the Holcomb report estimated that "the loss of every 100 refinery jobs could reduce the output of the local economy by as much as $1 billion."
USW officials said on any given day, there were 2,000 employees at PES – about 700 Steelworkers, 300 salaried personnel and an estimated 1,000 workers from the Building Trades. That translates to a $10 billion blow to the region's economy.
O'Callaghan spoke of the benefit the trade unions have seen from their work at PES.
"Individual units in the refinery come down all the time for maintenance," he said, adding that the 150-year-old facility constantly was being improved through capital investments. "That's where the Building Trades come in and work 8 million man hours in the past six years."
But, O'Callaghan warned, it won't just be the men and women inside the yard that will feel an impact.
"There's more people going to lose their jobs," he said. "In that analysis for every one direct refinery employee that loses their job, up to 18 other people will lose part or all of their salary. There's a whole lot of people that are going to be affected - tens of thousands - not a couple hundred."
And, besides how this will effect pricing of gasoline, diesel and home heating oil, other items will feel the wave of the shutdown.
"Everything's going up," O'Callaghan said. "The cost of food at the grocery store is going to go up. It's delivered by truck, which is powered by diesel or gasoline. (People) don't know what's coming, they don't know what's coming."
Some elected officials have gotten involved.
U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5 of Swarthmore, sent a letter to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives calling on them to be comprehensive in their probe.
"PES workers, their families and the entire region deserve answers about what caused the initial fire and the resulting explosion(s), as well as any residual environmental, safety or health issues," she wrote. "Therefore, I am requesting that each of your agencies conduct a thorough investigation and make your findings available so that necessary remediation and an assessment of any risks can occur to help prevent future crises."
Scanlon plans to have various meetings with stakeholders, local elected officials and community leaders for a listening session at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Seafarers Hall, 2604 S. Fourth St. in Philadelphia. It will be open to the public.
State Rep. Leanne Krueger, D-161 of Swarthmore, said PES should be held liable.
"As secretary of the House Committee on Labor and Industry, I have already been in touch with the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry to urge him to hold the company accountable," she said. First on the list, she said was the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act requirements for 60 days notice for a layoff.
"As a mom and a member of the Delaware County community, my heart is heavy for those families who will be without a good-paying union job in the household in the coming weeks," Krueger said, adding that 28 PES workers live in her district.
In the meantime, the PES employees watch the clock tick, with the refinery starting to discontinue its operations on July 1 with the Steelworkers' layoff scheduled for July 12.
"For our members, it's been devastating," O'Callaghan said. "It's absolutely devastating. This is a job that you get and you stay in forever. There aren't that many jobs left."
He spoke of how their work created a bond.
"We work weekends, holidays and you miss family events," he said. "You miss birthday parties and weddings. You're there on Christmas. And because of that, the long hours that you work, the days you work, you build up a pretty tight camaraderie and it becomes a culture and a culture's getting wiped out."
O'Callaghan spoke of how both union and non-union workers used their training and skill to contain a catastrophe that could have resulted in deaths.
"The response that both salary and hourly, union and non-union workers did was heroic," he said. "They performed their jobs, their training kicked in. All the other units had to come down when this one came down for safety reasons. Nobody knew what was going on. Operators and mechanics went out into the units and shut their units down while sirens were going on, while there was a fire going on."
As a result, there were no serious injuries and the fire was limited to that one unit.
"One of 30 is damaged," O'Callaghan said of the others left unscathed. "There's one unit out. It was contained. It's one unit. The Point Breeze side is totally unaffected. That could run now. That could run now. They could hit the button and start the Point Breeze side now."
Officials from Philadelphia Energy Solutions were unable to be reached by deadline.
Other members explained what it meant for them to work at PES.
William "Rock" Rachubinski worked at that facility for 13 years, having transferred from Sunoco's chemical plant in Bridesburg 20 years ago.
"It was a welcome change for me," he said, adding he decided to transfer to the refinery because he thought it would be more stable. "If you were going to work for Sunoco, you would think you'd be better off in the oil (work), rather than the chemicals."
Thanks to the work, he was able to provide for his three daughters.
"I think it was a very comfortable situation to raise a family in," Rachubinski said. "I have three daughters. My last one graduated college last year."
Even as the news began to sink in Wednesday evening, the 57-year-old South Philadelphia resident said, "I'm a firm believer when you think you've got things bad, there's always somebody that has it worse."
Even with hoping he'd work five more years at the refinery, Rachubinski's thoughts are with his younger colleagues.
"I'm more towards the end of my career," he said. "I look around at my co-workers and I see a lot of young bucks out there that are just starting families. I always was hopeful that they would have the same opportunity that I did to raise a family in this industry. It's a good job."
Having held two packed informational sessions for his members Wednesday, O'Callaghan said they're worried about what their future holds.
"But, they're focused on putting in the refinery units that are running in a safe mode that if there is a buyer, they can be started up quickly," he said, adding that he heard members talking to each other, saying, "Let's bring it down right. Let's do our jobs."
In the meantime, the union leader said, they're going to do what they can to beat the odds and get the facility reopened. That includes the possibility of filing a lawsuit to block the closure.
"We've got a puncher's shot, we've got a puncher's chance to get this ... sold or started up - a puncher's chance," O'Callaghan said. "We're going to fight to the last breath. We've got a puncher's chance."