Pa. Town Chases New Energy Dream After Oil Bails

Marcus Hook, Pa., had been a refinery town for 109 years. But caught in big changes to the world of energy, the plant shut down last winter. Now the community's young mayor wants to reinvent the community as a hub for the natural gas industry.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now to Pennsylvania, where one town is trying to transform itself after the closure of an oil refinery. Marcus Hook has been the site of a Sunoco refinery for more than a hundred years. But in December, Sunoco announced it would begin shuttering the facility. Now, as we hear from Emma Jacobs of member station WHYY, Marcus Hook is chasing a new energy dream.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: Almost everyone who lived around the refinery can tell you where, and when, they learned the news that the plant would shut down. Frank Changlione was in the Sunoco refinery, where he worked handling crude oil.

FRANK CHANGLIONE: I was shocked. I really was shocked. You know, I mean, I've never felt like that. And, you know, once they said that, all I was looking at was - you know, thinking about my kids, thinking about my wife, thinking about my house.

JACOBS: Mayor James Schiliro also worked and had even fought fires in the plant. He remembers being at his desk early one morning, when he got a courtesy call from Sunoco.

JAMES SCHILIRO: And it was like - I mean, what are we going to do? I mean, this is it. I mean, this refinery is Marcus Hook. If that leaves and nothing comes back, it's a ghost town. It's devastated.

JACOBS: Schiliro says that in the weeks to come, he stopped sleeping. The town he governs is one square mile; the refinery campus covers half of that. On the borough's main drag, there is a laundromat, which used to launder the refinery's chemical suits. It's beside a corner store - where refinery workers bought their lottery tickets - and across from Marcus Hook Hardware, where the owner says contractors for the refinery bought everything from Gatorade to power tools.

Schiliro says warning sirens still wail across town when the last workers inside the refinery, release hazardous chemicals. They're flushing the pipes, to shut the refinery down.

SCHILIRO: I've got them on a time base now. It's like, you know, I wait a couple minutes before I get out of bed; and then if it doesn't shut off, then I get out of bed. (LAUGHTER) But they've got it down to like, three minutes. It's like a pit crew. (LAUGHTER)

JACOBS: But there's also hope the refinery equipment can help Marcus Hook become an energy driven community again; this time, riding the growing natural gas industry in the region. The county commissioned a study on new uses for Sunoco's property, and the news was good.

TOM MCGARRIGLE: Today, we all stand here, and we look ahead at a new era.

JACOBS: At a news conference, Congressman Patrick Meehan applauded news that the report had found seven activities that could all take place on the refinery campus. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The speaker is Tom McGarrigle, chairman of the Delaware County Council.]

MCGARRIGLE: There's a lot of great opportunities for jobs, employment growth and construction, down at this facility.

JACOBS: The politicians presented an optimistic vision of a buzzing campus processing natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, and other shale formations. There are almost 8,000 active wells in Pennsylvania alone. However, it will take time to see what companies Marcus Hook can attract. Fadel Gheit, an analyst with Oppenheimer & Co., says repurposing will require big investments.

FADEL GHEIT: The thing is, the money is really critical. It is somebody who's willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, to transform the facility into a viable economic entity.

JACOBS: But it's tough to bank on anything, which is why there are more for-sale signs in front of the brick bungalows in the borough's center. Frank Changlione, the unemployed refinery worker, tried to move away himself. He spent two months in Texas, but then he came back.

CHANGLIONE: This is where I grew up. This is where my family's from. At the time, I thought I was making the right move. And I woke up and said, this isn't what I want. I want to come back home.

JACOBS: The whole community knows things will never be the same as when the refinery ran on oil. But there's a growing sense that Marcus Hook can find a place in the natural gas economy. For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs in Philadelphia.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.