Demolition continues at W. Deptford refinery Saturday

The Sunoco Eagle Point oil refinery in Gloucester County early Oct 7, 2009. ( Tom Gralish / Staff Photographer
The Sunoco Eagle Point oil refinery in Gloucester County early Oct 7, 2009. ( Tom Gralish / Staff Photographer
Posted: January 26, 2014

WEST DEPTFORD A West Deptford oil refinery intertwined with local politics will bid goodbye to one of its main edifices early Saturday.

That's when Sunoco Logistics will implode the Eagle Point refinery's 65-year-old "fractionator" - the heaviest refining unit at the site, towering an estimated 200 feet.

The "controlled implosion" will last about two minutes and also demolish a tower and chimney, West Deptford officials said.

A rusty-looking dome, the fractionator - referred to in the industry as a "cat cracker," and used to convert crude oil into other fuels - was built in 1949, according to Sunoco.

That was when Texaco began refinery operations at the 1,100-acre site, which the company bought in 1948, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Coastal Oil bought the plant in 1985 and sold to Sunoco in 2004.

This weekend's demolition is the latest in an effort to decommission the site as a refinery. Situated on the Delaware River, the Philadelphia skyline in the distance, the plant stopped production in December 2009 because of market conditions and a decrease in demand for oil.

Nearly 400 employees lost their jobs; staffing at the site now stands at 50. The company continues to use the site to store and transfer petroleum.

"Everybody hoped [Sunoco] would open it back up," a former refinery maintenance worker said Friday. "That's not going to happen."

The former employee, a Georgia Avenue resident whose backyard borders the site's property line, worried that the implosion could shake the ground, cracking walls or damaging the foundation. He asked to not be identified, citing a nondisclosure agreement he signed with Sunoco.

Mayor Ray Chintall wrote in an e-mail: "According to the experts, the structure hitting ground should not cause shock waves so as to do any damage in nearby homes."

Sunoco Logistics spokesman Jeffrey Shields said the implosion sounds like a "shotgun in the forest."

Shields said that any metals would be sold and the remaining debris recycled or taken to a landfill.

Township officials have inspected the site and issued permits for the demolition.

Chintall said he had been assured that proper steps were taken to secure the site. Remediation was done to ensure no asbestos is released into the community, Sunoco said.

"All the asbestos is gone from that unit," Shields said. "We don't expect any health effects on the neighborhood."

Sunoco began dismantling the refinery in November 2011 and is expected to complete the process in April.

The plant's closure angered State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a West Deptford resident and Democrat who represented workers at the refinery.

After Republicans were elected to the township committee in 2011 after years of Democratic control, officials agreed to settle a slew of property tax appeals by Sunoco.

Sweeney sponsored a bill, later signed by Gov. Christie, that would prevent Sunoco and other companies from getting tax refunds on closed facilities until the properties were clean of contamination.

When West Deptford officials proceeded with the tax settlement with Sunoco, Sweeney sued his hometown. That suit, settled last year, gives Sunoco its refund, but the company must post a bond to ensure cleanup.

The site, contaminated with metals related to the operations, is still undergoing remediation. Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said Friday that work was on track.



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