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EPA threatens to sue fuel-storage facility in San Pedro

The 40-year-old tank farm holds up to 25 million gallons of flammable butane. The EPA says it wants to make sure the facility is following a federal safety law.

March 18, 2013|By Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times
  • The EPA is concerned one of the nation's largest above ground storage facilities for liquified petroleum gas in San Pedro is concerned the facility does not have ready access to water to put out a fire in the case of an earthquake.
The EPA is concerned one of the nation's largest above ground storage… (Christina House, For the…)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has notified the owners of a 40-year-old San Pedro tank farm, which has up to 25 million gallons of highly flammable butane, that it is prepared to sue to ensure compliance with federal law.

The formal notification of potential federal enforcement against the San Pedro Terminal, owned by Plains LPG Services and operated by Rancho LPG Holdings, was based on investigations of the facility, EPA officials said Saturday. The terminal, perched on a hill, is one of the largest and oldest aboveground fuel-storage facilities of its kind in the country.

"We are not aware of any previous state or federal enforcement action against the facility," said Dan Meer, assistant director of the superfund division in EPA Region 9.

The owner of the storage facility was not immediately available for comment.

One of the EPA's chief concerns is that the facility allegedly has not addressed the consequences of a loss of city water for fire suppression in the event of an earthquake, Meer said.

The EPA said the omission is in violation of a federal law requiring owners and operators to design and maintain a safe facility by taking steps necessary to prevent releases and minimize the consequences of accidental releases of hazardous substances.

Neighbors and public officials have complained for decades that the collection of domed, 80-foot-tall tanks had the makings of a potential catastrophe.

"We are delighted with the EPA's action," said Janet Schaaf-Gunter of San Pedro and Peninsula Homeowners United. "That facility is far more dangerous today than it ever was because it sits on a 40-year-old infrastructure."

In 2011, Rancho LPG Holdings said its tanks were well-maintained and equipped with an array of safety measures, including monitors, sprinkler systems, automatic shut-off valves and dikes to contain a gas spill.

They also noted that homes, built before the tanks, are located about 1,000 feet from the site.

Failure to comply with federal regulations could result in enforcement actions, including civil and administrative penalties of up to $37,500 per day of noncompliance, according to the notice sent to the facility Thursday.

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