The City of Philadelphia will get a seat at the table, or at least a spot standing along the wall, at the planned January auction of the bankrupt 1,300-acre Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) refinery complex.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Kevin Gross in Wilmington on Thursday approved bidding procedures for the PES property, which shut down and declared bankruptcy after a catastrophic explosion in June. The plans call for final bids to be placed Jan. 10, followed by an auction Jan. 17 if there is competition to buy some or all of the property.
PES agreed to revise the bidding procedures to accommodate objections raised last week by the U.S. Trustee and by the city. The city had asked to learn the identity of the bidders before an auction, and also to be included in the room during any auction process.
The revised procedures will require PES to disclose the names of the bidders to the city, and to consult with authorized city representatives during an auction "regarding the future use and development of the real property assets.”
Fifteen potential bidders have submitted written indications of interest in the property, the largest refining complex on the East Coast. At least two parties have proposed producing fuel on the site, and several other energy companies have suggested converting it into a fuel terminal that would take advantage of the site’s access to sea, rail, highway, and airport. PES has not identified any potential bidders in court.
PES, which was in financial difficulty before the dramatic June 21 explosion and fire that shut down the fuel complex, filed for bankruptcy in July. Along with potential buyers, the bankruptcy triggered interest among community groups and activists who said the explosion reinforced their health and safety concerns about operating such a risky business in a densely populated city.
While the judge on Thursday accommodated the city’s request to be included in the sale process, he turned down a request from Peter Winslow, an environmental advocate whose organization, A SMART Collaboration LLC, seeks to restore the refinery site to its natural state as a tidal estuary. The organization sought to modify the process to require $900 million of the insurance settlement be set aside to remediate the site.
Though Winslow is neither a lawyer nor a party to the bankruptcy, he was allowed to address the court from the lectern, wearing a yellow “Philly Thrive” T-shirt that stood out among the gray-suited throng of attorneys representing various creditors, labor unions, insurance companies, and lenders who have stakes in the complex bankruptcy.
Gross suggested that Winslow’s group could communicate its concerns through the city, now that it is an official participant in the process. “I’m hoping this is sufficient,” he said.
Winslow afterward said he was satisfied that he was able to communicate his concerns but seemed resigned to a sideline role.
“The nature of the bankruptcy process is that it gives some lip service to environmental concerns and to community concerns, but the bottom line is that it is settling out obligations between the debtors and the creditors, and it’s about money," he said. "So the things that are in fact externalities -- public health, the best economic use of the property -- really don’t come into consideration.”
The bankruptcy process seems to be moving rapidly toward a conclusion early next year. PJT Partners, the refinery’s investment bank, said potential bidders must submit proposals by Nov. 22 to qualify for the final bidding process.
After final bids are submitted by Jan. 10, PES can select one or more “stalking horse” bidders whose offers would become the floor price for other contenders to beat. A stalking horse would be selected no later than Jan. 13, four days before the auction.
After an auction is held Jan. 17 at the New York offices of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, the refinery’s bankruptcy lawyers, parties would have two days to file objections.
A hearing to confirm the sale is scheduled for Jan. 22.
The parties are also negotiating a potential settlement with insurance carriers that insured the refinery for up to $1.25 billion in losses from damage and business interruption.
Judge Gross on Thursday approved a settlement that will free up an additional $35 million in debtor-in-possession financing, on top of $65 million approved in June. PES had a total cash balance of about $96 million on Nov. 11, but with no income, it is projected to run out of funds before the bankruptcy process is completed.
The judge also approved the refinery’s request to spend a total of up to $400,000 for bonuses to retain “non-insider” employees who are needed to maintain critical tasks at the refinery until it is sold. The bonuses would average about $14,000 each, and are for midlevel managers, PES lawyers said.
About 175 of the refinery’s workforce of 1,100 remain employed -- about 80 of them are union workers. PES lawyers said staffing in functions such as accounting, information technology, and human resources was “severely depleted.”