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Sunoco Refinery Closings Leave Pennsylvania Boilermakers on the Hook

In September, the announcement that many of Sunoco’s northeast refineries would be closing upset workers at the 109-year-old Marcus Hook refinery in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, located southeast of Philadelphia. By early December, nearly 500 workers were on the path to unemployment.

Sunoco originally said they would keep the facilities open until July when a buyer could be found, then reversed course and began the closings citing “market realities.” The workers looked for a politician to save them, a lofty goal in the politically divisive Keystone State. News Works reported on the economic impact of Sunoco’s decision:

The displaced workers first looked to their Governor, Tom Corbett, for help, but Corbett was nowhere to be found. He was noticeably absent in terms of demanding answers from the corporation, something he has shown a penchant for since his time as Attorney General. Corbett was busy making sure as little money was gained by Pennsylvania as possible. Workers took to the Governor’s mansion looking for answers, but found, much like their refineries, that the mansion was bare:

Enter Democratic Senator Bob Casey, Jr. He is running for re-election in 2012 and has called for Senate hearings on the refinery closings. A sign of the times, Casey took few actions to stop the closings as they happened, but tried to jump on the jobs train in retrospect:

The senator (Casey) sent a request to U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for a hearing to examine the impact of the closure of ConocoPhillips’ Trainer refinery and Sunoco Inc.’s Marcus Hook and Philadelphia facilities.

“We expect both companies to provide as much information about buyers and about their plans here so … they can assure the American people that the steps that they take will ensure that gas prices don’t go through the roof, that we have that refining capacity to power this country and to keep us safe,” Casey said.

“If they can answer all of these questions, … then maybe we can have a more productive discussion,” the senator said. “But, until that happens, we have a lot of questions for these companies that they are not answering.”

Demanding the truth is admirable, but not as admirable as demanding action at the time of need. The Senate hearing will put pressure on the company to tell the truth about the impact of their decision on local economies and the price of gas, but is too late to ensure the workers, many of them union boilermakers, keep their jobs. Since the shutdown was announced in September, Casey has been working with other elected officials, among them U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-7), and union leaders:

“We have provided them with regular updates on the status of the sales process and the reasoning behind the decision to exit refining,” he said in a statement. “That being said, we are limited in what we can say about the process and the parties to which we are speaking due to confidentiality agreements.

“The offers of assistance and support Sunoco has received have been much appreciated, and we have conveyed those offers to potential buyers. We are acutely aware of and concerned about the impact this change in our business may have on employees and the local communities, so we are doing everything we can to find the right buyer for both facilities.”

Along with the economic impact of closed refineries comes a safety risk, according to

The closing of two oil refineries could become a financial disaster for Marcus Hook and Trainer, and Delaware County officials said Thursday that they were trying to make sure it didn’t also become an environmental one.

“These communities can be assured we’re doing everything possible to protect their safety,” Council Chairman Tom McGarrigle said at a news briefing after an hour-long meeting with ConocoPhillips and Sunoco Inc. officials.

Conoco has closed its Trainer plant, and Sunoco is shutting down in Marcus Hook.

McGarrigle said the companies would keep “safety crews and firefighting apparatus” at both sites.

“There are potential fire and hazardous-material risks that we need to be prepared for,” said Ed Doyle, co-chairman of the county’s emergency-planning committee.

Officials did not identify specific risks, nor would they disclose emergency plans, citing security issues.

Doyle said both companies had agreed that local officials “can go in anytime and look at anything.”

An abandoned oil refinery poses serious fire risks for the community. Below is a clip of a fire at a closed Sun Oil Refinery in Marcus Hook, taken by an observer.

In Pennsylvania, blue collar workers are being left on the hook for the fallout of political ineffectiveness. The rise of the “corporate profit at all costs” climate has become a recurring scene in modern America. While Senator Casey’s proposed hearings will hopefully make an example of the situation in the Keystone state so that other municipalities do not allow the same hurtful chain of events, it may well end up another ‘too little, too late’ situation with respect to the boilermakers’ jobs.


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