A local congressman is urging federal officials to more thoroughly investigate the safety of a San Pedro butane storage facility that has become controversial because of its location near homes, schools and shopping areas in San Pedro.
On Wednesday, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security demanding that the agency take additional steps to protect the public from the risk of explosion at the Rancho LPG Holdings site on North Gaffey Street.
Waxman said he was concerned that an earlier homeland security inspection of the Rancho facility was cursory, did little to verify the company's safety information and seriously conflicted with recent findings by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"EPA says Rancho is not prepared for an accident; DHS says the company is prepared for an intentional attack," Waxman wrote. "The EPA's findings are alarming; the DHS conclusions are reassuring."
The 20-acre facility includes two 80-foot-high storage tanks capable of holding up to 25 million gallons of liquified petroleum gas, such as highly flammable butane and propane.
Built more than 40 years ago under an industrial zoning from World War II, the site is about 1,000 feet from residential areas that existed before construction of the tanks. Residents, local activists and elected officials contend the facility is unsafe and fear that a major explosion would destroy the nearby community.
"We have faced rejection, rebuke and dismissal at every turn in our quest to address this extreme hazard," said Janet Schaaf-Gunter of San Pedro and Peninsula Homeowners United. "We applaud Congressman Waxman for his leadership in taking control of this incredibly hazardous situation before disaster strikes.”
Officials of Rancho LPG, a unit of Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline, say the tanks are 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.
In his letter, Waxman mentioned the preliminary findings of an ongoing EPA investigation of the site. According to the agency, the company has not provided its emergency response plan to local public safety agencies, failed to assess the risk of its rail storage area and failed to plan for earthquakes.
"Essentially, EPA said that Rancho is not prepared for an earthquake or accident," Waxman wrote.
In contrast, the congressman noted that homeland security's anti-terrorism program for chemical facilities recently gave Rancho passing marks for safety after an inspection.
Waxman added that the chemical facilities program has a long record of ineffectiveness and has shown "a distressing lack of progress in securing these facilities since the program was established six years ago."
In addition to Waxman's request, State Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Redondo Beach) asked the state fire marshal this week to investigate the Rancho facility and assess the risks of the site.
Both Lieu and Waxman cited the propane explosion last month in Florida at a Blue Rhino gas plant that was much smaller than the Rancho operation. The blast seriously injured some workers and forced an evacuation of the surrounding community.