annotated aerial view of marcus hook 1-15-19
The major equipment at the Marcus Hook site.

Starting January 22, 2019, and continuing for 30 hours, a butane storage tank at the Marcus Hook refinery leaked 510 tons of butane into the air. That’s a massive amount of gas, and (given the characteristics of butane) must have formed a large flammable cloud. And yet, no one was notified or evacuated, as far as I have been able to learn.

This release could easily have caused a catastrophic explosion in Marcus Hook.

The leak was the first of two major butane leaks at the facility within a two-week period. The second, on February 4, was a leak from a butane pipeline at the plant. It caused Route 13 to be shut down. That leak was the subject of a previous blog post. Although local police were notified, it is my understanding that Delaware County emergency services were not, and again no one was evacuated.

We only know of the January leak because the PA Department of Environmental Protection cited Sunoco for it in a September 12 “Deviation Report” noting nine instances of failures to comply with environmental permits at Marcus Hook during the first half of 2019. The January and February leaks were two of the nine. (I am grateful to Clean Air Council for bringing this report to my attention.) The report cites a faulty pressure safety valve on a refrigerated butane tank as the cause of the January leak.

The report says that the February 4 butane leak involved a release of 18 tons.

It is unacceptable that large leaks of highly volatile, flammable liquids can be permitted to occur with no notification of local authorities, county authorities, or nearby residents. Let your elected representatives know that this cannot be permitted to continue.