Philadelphia’s refining districts have always beckoned further investigation: sprawling, complex and economically vital their operations shrouded in secrecy, these spaces are deeply paradoxical–hidden in plain sight, seemingly benign in their proximity to our homes, schools, roads and places of business. Long before Texas tea and OPEC, however, Philadelphia was the seat of petroleum refining, storage and export in the United States beginning in the 1860s. What started as an innocuous tidewater storage facility on the Schuylkill has become one of the most persistent land uses in the city; all the while Philadelphia has pressed up against the footprints of these massive structures–with dramatic impacts on the region’s economic, ecological and transportation networks. Now these refineries are poised to enter a new era of productivity with massive amounts of Bakken crude oil arriving by rail from North Dakota. The arrival of this oil assures these facilities’ competitiveness but it also exposes new facets of the city to strange, heretofore unimagined dangers.
Head on over to Hidden City Daily to check out my latest piece on the ever-evolving geography of hydrocarbon refining’s risks and rewards in the Philadelphia region.
[Big H/T to the various editors, photographers and contributors who brought this piece to fruition: John Pettit (grandson of an Atlantic Refining/ARCO pipefitter) and at Hidden City, Brad Maule, Pete Woodall and Nathaniel Popkin for their masterful editing.]