About Area of Interest: Former Sunoco/PES Refinery Site
Area of Interest: Former Sunoco/PES Refinery Site Billboard was viewable from June 2-28, 2021. It could be seen from Wharton Street, just north of the former Sunoco/PES Refinery site's AOI-8, or driving westbound on I-76 towards the Grays Ferry neighborhood.
Area of Interest: Public Posters is a forthcoming, large-format 20-poster visual essay expanding the project in public space.
Area of Interest situates research as an open set of questions related to the future of the former Sunoco/Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery, its ongoing remediation by Sunoco subsidiary Evergreen Resources Group, LLC., and Hilco Redevelopment Partners' plans for the site. At 1,300 acres, the largest un-redeveloped brownfield in Philadelphia is highly desirable even with the long remediation timeline and limits on future use required by partial remediation. It was the East Coast’s largest oil refinery.
As community activists demand transparency and raise environmental justice concerns about remaining chemical contamination—such as EPA-actionable levels of cancer-causing VOC benzene—the toxic legacy, cleanup, and future plans continue to impact residents of neighborhoods adjacent to the site, whose populations are predominantly Black and low income, and whose lives have already been shaped by proximity to the refinery and petrocapitalism’s slow violence.
In response, Area of Interest: Former Sunoco/PES Refinery Site Billboard incorporated four pieces of research data into a visual essay, pointing on I-76 towards alternative futures in a site-specific, rented, transient format. In late 2021, Area of Interest: Public Posters will continue the project in public.
Figure 1: Former Sunoco Philadelphia Refinery (Replica Map)
Replica map of the contaminated refinery site broken down into Areas of Interest (AOIs) for cleanup by Sunoco/Evergreen and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PDEP). Sunoco is responsible for legacy contamination and Hilco for monitoring and current emissions.
Source: Philadelphia Refinery Operations, a series of Evergreen Resources Group, LLP, from the Philadelphia Refinery Legacy Remediation website.
Figure 2: Quote from Mr. Charles Reeves (Excerpt)
Mr. Charles Reeves' powerful wish for the former refinery site to become a cemetery, quoted from his interview with Maggie McNulty in Schuylkill River & Urban Waters Research Corps Archive's Grays Ferry Oral Histories Project. This project of Penn Program in Environmental Humanities documents the lives of long-term residents in this South Philadelphia neighborhood after the refinery explosion.
Biography: Mr. Charles Reeves, Jr. has been a resident of Grays Ferry for sixty years. He is the Founding President of the Tasker-Morris Neighbors Association.
Figure 3: Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides W. Bartram ex Marshall)
Pressed herbarium specimen of the Eastern Cottonwood tree (Populus deltoides W.Bartram ex Marshall), from the Atlas of Florida Plants.
The Eastern Cottonwood grows in Philadelphia and can be used to phytoremediate petroleum and benzene contamination. It’s named for botanist and naturalist William Bartram, author of Bartram’s Travels and son of John Bartram, the "father of American botany.” Significantly, Bartram’s Garden, a National Historic Landmark named for the family, is just across the Schuylkill River from AOI-8 and adjacent to the housing complex Bartram Village.
Source: Atlas of Florida Plants
Figure 4: View from the Passayunk Bridge of the former Sunoco Philadelphia Refinery, also known as the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) Refining and Marketing LLC Complex, May 4, 2021
This image is of extant refinery infrastructure as can seen beyond the fenceline during the ongoing post-explosion dismantling of the refinery.
Photography: Alex Imbot/Bethany Wiggin 2021
PUBLIC POSTERS FALL 2021
This upcoming work will extend Area of Interest as a large-format 20-poster visual essay, situating research materials about the PES site in public space. The project's research material includes site photography, quotes from community activists, lists of acronyms and other technical language about the site, and herbarium and policy ephemera. Some posters employ figures and figure captions, referencing the framework of image numbering and text used when photographs, maps, charts, and other data are presented as evidence in academic publications and reports.
Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining Complex Areas of Interest
AOI 1 - Point Breeze No. 1 Tank Farm
AOI 2 - Point Breeze Processing Area
AOI 3 - Point Breeze Impoundment Area
AOI 4 - No. 4 Tank Farm
AOI 5 - Girard Point South Tank Field
AOI 6 - Girard Point Chemicals Area
AOI 7 - Girard Point Fuels Area
AOI 8 - North Yard
AOI 9 - Schuylkill River Tank Farm
AOI 10 - West yard
AOI 11 - Deep Aquifer Beneath the Complex
Trees Used for Phytoremediation of Contaminated Soil
Eastern Cottonwood (Populus Deltoides W. Bartram Ex Marshall)
Hybrid Poplar (Populus Deltoides X Populus Nigra)
White Willow (Salix Alba L.)
Weeping Willow (Salix Babylonica L.)
Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining Complex Contaminants of Concern (2011)
Methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE)
PES Refining and Marketing LLC Complex
Remedial Investigation Reports Review, June 2020
AOI - Area of Interest
CAMU - Corrective Action Management Unit
COC - Contaminant of Concern
EPA - United States Environmental Protection Agency
IASHS - Indoor Air Statewide Health Standard
LNAPL - Light Non-Aqueous Phase Liquid
MTBE - Methyl Tert Butyl Ether
NIOSH - National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
NIR - Notice of Intent to Remediate
OSHA - Occupational Safety and Health Administration
PADEP - Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Quality
PES - Philadelphia Energy Solutions
RIR - Remedial Investigation Report
SWMU - Solid Waste Management Unit
VOC - Volatile Organic Compound
SVOC - Semi-Volatile Organic Compound
Area of Interest Posters
List of Figures
Figure 1. Former Sunoco Philadelphia Refinery (Replica Map)
Figure 2. Quote from Mr. Charles Reeves (See billboard)
Figure 3.1-3.3. TBD
Figure 4.1 View From Passyunk Bridge
Figure 4.2 Fenceline view of the former Sunoco/Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery complex
Figure 4.3 Tanks and infrastructure at the decommissioned PES refinery complex
Figure 5 PES fenceline surface soil sample taken near the Penrose PECO Substation
Figure 6.1 Report Cover, Environmental Justice and Refinery Pollution, 2021
Figure 6.2 Report Cover, A Close Call and an Uncertain Future, 2019
Amy Balkin with support from Penn Program in Environmental Humanities, Bethany Wiggin and Alex Imbot (site research and photography), Mr. and Mrs. Charles and Tammy Reeves (Resident Action Committee 2) and Miranda Mote (subject matter experts), and Mia D’Avanza and Angela Faranda (research, production and project administration). Thanks to Mr. Charles Reeves and Maggie McNulty for permission to republish an excerpt from their interview. Billboard image credit: Matt Gant