The PES Philadelphia Refining Complex has been “part of the neighborhood” in South Philadelphia for over 150 years and is closely tied to the growth of the American oil industry in the 19th century.
In 1866, one year after the end of the Civil War, Atlantic Petroleum Company established its operations at Point Breeze along the Schuylkill River below Passyunk Ave. Four warehouses were built, and those could store 50,000 barrels (2.1 million gallons) of refined oil product, mostly kerosene used as lamp oil to light the homes and businesses in the growing city. (Remember that the automobile had not yet arrived on the scene, but when it did, it was probably powered by ethanol.)
Atlantic also built docks and railroad trunk lines to connect with the new refineries in Western Pennsylvania that were established after oil was discovered in Titusville, PA, in 1859. Atlantic installed its first petroleum refining units in 1870, changed its name to Atlantic Refining Company and soon became Philadelphia’s largest employer. Right after the turn of the century, Atlantic introduced the first fractionating tower, which would radically alter and improve the way oil would be refined.
Around 1908, Henry Ford announced the arrival of the Model T, making it increasingly practical for the “average person” to own his own car. By 1915, the gasoline being manufactured at Point Breeze was being sold from a gas station using a pump. In 1918, “Fighting Red” – a superior-grade aviation fuel – was also being produced at Point Breeze and utilized by the Allies in World War I.
In 1920, Gulf Oil built its first terminal at Girard Point, south of the Atlantic refinery and just north of Old Penrose Avenue, which is adjacent to Point Breeze. By 1927, Girard Point was refining up to 31,000 barrels (1.3 million gallons) a day of gasoline and other products at its recently built facility. By World War II, both refineries were processing 69,000 barrels a day (2.9 million gallons). The post-war era saw a great boom in the business, as well as many corporate changes.
In 1966, Atlantic Refining Co. and Richfield Oil Co. in California merged to become ARCO. In 1982, Gulf was bought out by Chevron, and the Girard Point refinery became the Chevron USA Philadelphia refinery.
The year 1985 saw Dutch oil trader, John Deuss, buy Point Breeze from ARCO, along with 1,000 retail outlets and miles of inland pipeline, and returned to using the “Atlantic” name for its company and outlets.
Sunoco, Inc. purchased Point Breeze from Deuss in 1988 and Girard Point from Chevron in 1994. In 1995, the two facilities were consolidated into one refinery.
In 2012, Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) was formed as a result of a partnership between The Carlyle Group and Sunoco Inc., which is a subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. family of companies. PES separated the combined refineries into separate business units and now operates as a refining complex made up of the two domestic refineries – Girard Point and Point Breeze – with a combined processing rate of 335,000 barrels a day (14 million U.S. gallons) of crude oil. It remains the largest oil refining complex on the U.S. Eastern seaboard.