Philadelphia Energy Solutions has filed for bankruptcy protection a month after an explosion permanently shut down the East Coast’s oldest and largest refinery. The chaos began on June 21 at 4 a.m. when a butane tank exploded, destroying an alkylation unit using hydrofluoric acid to process refined petroleum. If you’re not sure exactly what that means… it’s bad. The explosion sent fireballs into the air that you could see miles away. And it took two days to completely extinguish the massive fire that resulted.
The company shut down the refinery less than a week later and announced—by email, and with only 5 days notice—that it would lay off 1,000 employees. Refinery workers were not pleased, responding with a lawsuit arguing that Philadelphia Energy Solutions failed to comply with the WARN Act’s requirement that a company with 100 or more workers give 60 days’ notice when expecting massive job loss. (Fair enough. But the WARN has exceptions for layoffs due to “unforeseeable business circumstances.” Is anyone arguing that Philadelphia Energy Solutions planned the explosion in advance?)
PES Seeks to Reorganize and Rebuild with $100 Million in New Funding
Philadelphia Energy Solutions owns and operates the Point Breeze and Girard Point oil refineries located on an integrated, 1,300-acre refining complex in Philadelphia. The with a combined capacity of 335,000 barrels per day. The company is seeking $100 million in new funding to support existing operations, undertake the work necessary to ensure the refinery complex is safely positioned for rebuilding, and restart and complete its reorganization process.
We will continue our ongoing cooperation with the federal, state and city governmental agencies investigating the June 21 accident and thank them and our employees for their diligent efforts at this difficult time. The success of our plan is critical to energy supply and security for the region, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the City of PhiladelphiaMark Smith, Chief Executive Officer
The 2018 Bankruptcy and Restructuring
Notably, this is the company’s second bankruptcy in under two years. It blamed that first filing largely on the costs of complying with the US Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires refiners to either blend biofuels like ethanol into fuel or purchase credits from competitors who do. Philadelphia Energy Solutions does not have blending capabilities, so it pays for credits. (The withdrawal of over $590 million in dividend-style payments from the company may not have done anything to help the situation.)
During the first bankruptcy case, the EPA waived half of PES’s $350 million in liabilities related to biofuels credits. Philadelphia Energy Solutions then restructured over $635 million of funded debt while securing access to $260 million in new financing and a new $900 million intermediation facility.
Today marks the successful completion of a process that preserves the jobs of 1,100 hard-working Pennsylvanians and ensures the critical flow of energy to the Northeast U.S. . . . . PES has a bright future ahead as the longest continuously operating refinery on the East Coast. We will invest in the refinery, building on the more than $900 million that has been invested in the complex since PES was formed in 2012 to implement world-class refining capabilities.Greg Gatta, Chief Executive Officer
Lingering Financial Woes
However, Philadelphia Energy Solutions was reportedly facing another financial crisis just months after emerging from that earlier bankruptcy. In February of 2019, Reuters reported that after exiting from bankruptcy in August of 2018, the company saw its cash balance fall to $87.7 million at the end of 2018, down from $148 million three months earlier.
According to Reuters, the company’s weak cash position forced the refiner to significantly scale back a planned $90 million maintenance project planned for last January. Refiners, of course, perform maintenance to keep units operating reliably and safely.
The refinery explosion occurred less than 6 months later.