A fire at a Philadelphia oil refinery early Friday morning resulted in an explosion felt for miles, generating a fireball so big and so hot that the explosion itself was seen by a weather satellite overhead.
Philadelphia Oil Refinery Fire Explodes in Massive Fireball Seen from Space
A fire broke out at Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refirnery during the pre-dawn hours of Friday morning, CNBC reported today, blazing out of control and producing a massive explosion that could be felt for miles.
The heat from the half-mile wide fireball erupting from the refinery explosion was so intense that weather satellites were able to see its heat signature from space.
This morning, one of our forecasters noticed that the refinery explosion in #Philadelphia was captured on satellite. The heat signature is so large and hot it could be detected using infrared imagery. pic.twitter.com/2zTcSM8n5U— NWS Key West (@NWSKeyWest) June 21, 2019
Remarkably, no one appears to have been killed by the explosion but four people were injured and treated on site, according to CNN.
The fire reportedly started in a vat of butane, a byproduct of refining crude oil into gasoline and other fuels, and it was this vat that appears to have exploded.
Fire crews from both the city of Philadelphia and Philadelphia Energy Solutions are working together to combat the blaze, and while it isn't under control as of this hour, fire crews have contained it to the general area immediately around the butane vat .
"The fire is not under control yet," said Craig Murphy, Deputy Fire Commissioner for the city of Philadelphia, "Right now, companies are making sure that the fire does not spread."
The cause of the fire is unknown at this time and Philadelphia Energy Solutions and city officials are still working out whether all employees are accounted for, so the situation can change once the fire is under control. Murphy did say, however, that when the fire started, some company employees "were working somewhere close to the vat...but far enough away that the initial explosion didn't injure anyone." Whether the work was related to the fire isn't clear at this time.
Residents in the surrounding area reported several explosions, felt as far away as the southernmost part of neighboring New Jersey a few miles away over the Delaware river. Other fires were burning in the area around the butane vat, but appear to be contained.
Murphy also said that fire crews are keeping the tanks of chemicals in the surrounding areas of the refinery cooled as a precautionary measure.
City Orders Residents East of Refinery to Shelter in Place for Hours After Explosion
Residents to the east of the Philadelphia Energy Solutions complex were ordered to shelter in place immediately after the explosion. Extensive smoke from burning petroleum chemicals blanketed the area for several hours, though the order was lifted after Philadelphia Energy Solutions detected no further danger from inhalants.
Update from @PhillyFireDept: The shelter in place, which was lifted, was precautionary due to smoke plume. Philadelphia Energy Solutions reports a vat of butane exploded and was burning. They report no detectable inhalants. PES will monitor air quality. Please avoid 26th/Passyunk— Philadelphia OEM (@PhilaOEM) June 21, 2019
Regarding this morning's PES fire:— Philadelphia Department of Public Health (@PHLPublicHealth) June 21, 2019
Air Management Services was on-scene immediately and took air samples. Preliminary testing at the refinery, and in the community around, found no ambient carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons (combustibles), or hydrogen sulfides.
Additional samples were taken and transported to the Air Management Services Lab. We are awaiting the results of the tests being run and will release the interpretation of the results as soon as it is available.— Philadelphia Department of Public Health (@PHLPublicHealth) June 21, 2019
The Health Department has no findings that would point to any immediate danger in the surrounding community at this time, and the City is NOT recommending evacuation or shelter-in-place.— Philadelphia Department of Public Health (@PHLPublicHealth) June 21, 2019
Price of Gasoline Futures Shoots Up Following Blast at Largest Refinery in Eastern US
Gasoline prices shot up in the wake of the explosion at the 10th largest oil refinery in the US and the largest on the east coast. The 150-year old refinery sits in the river basin that has historically been a major commercial center along the Delaware river, but grew to become the center of oil refining operations in the eastern US and is a major purchaser of oil extracted from the North Sea region of Europe and West Africa.
The refinery can process as many as 335,000 barrels of oil every day and is one of the primary sources of gasoline and other fuels for the northeast and midatlantic regions of the US.