City to increase tank farm monitoring


The Rancho LPG tank farm is located in San Pedro near the border of Rancho Palos Verdes. Photo courtesy of RPV

Just a day after residents successfully urged the City of Rancho Palos Verdes to step up efforts to monitor a local tank farm, the facility caused a large leak reported for several hours.

Investigators determined a gas leak had in fact come from the Rancho LPG facility located near the border with RPV. Sam Atwood, spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District said the agency received 37 complaints on the afternoon of Wednesday Oct 17.

Investigators traced the leak to the same facility that has drawn neighborhood concerns for years, including just that week. Atwood said the agency was still looking into what exactly caused the incident before the case moves to a penalty phase.

Local RPV residents live as close as a quarter mile from two large tanks and a series of smaller ones that store 25 million gallons of liquefied butane and propane. The tank farm has long been a concern by local residents who fear it could be the target of a terrorist attack or subject to disaster from an earthquake or an accidental release.

Ron Conrow, district manager for Rancho LPG, which owns the site, said the city council before the recent leak that the tanks were safe and the facility had satisfied permit requirements with multiple regulatory agencies.

“Even if a plane crashed into the tanks it would be physically impossible to vaporize instantly,” Conrow said.

In September, the Coastal San Pedro Neighborhood Council produced a video detailing some of the possible threats that could be posed on the facility. Conrow said the video was reckless.

“It’s interesting that they bring up public safety and yet they will publish a video they are quite proud of with these types of photos,” Conrow said. “If you really believe that facility is as dangerous as it is are you going to purposefully put out things that might cause some nut job to do something?”

A risk assessment performed by a consultant for Rancho LPG found the potential “blast zone” from a worst-case scenario disaster would extend no more than half a mile from the perimeter of the site. But another study commissioned by residents found the area would encompass close to 13 miles.

Conrow dismissed the neighborhood report for its inaccuracies. “What you got was a bogus report,” he said.

Jeanne Lacombe, representing local homeowners, said the facility was approved without a permit in 1973 and according to the Los Angeles Planning Department the site is prone to landslides and lies on an earthquake fault line.

“That doesn’t really seem like the prime spot to put 25 million gallons of butane. The risk from that facility is a public safety issue,” said Lacombe who asked the city council to demand more insurance and look at relocation options.

The facility was first constructed by Petrolane and later operated by Amerigas. It’s now owned by Plains LPG, the parent company of Rancho.

Conrow said the facility was in fact properly permitted and an Environmental Impact Report was originally performed back in the 1970s shortly after the plant was constructed. At the time it was planned, an EIR was not required, Conrow said.

“The notion there was a bogus EIR, that it was built improperly and no permits were issued for the tanks, is nothing further from the truth,” Conrow said.

Without any violations, there’s little the city council can do. A recent court decision in a similar case found that the mere existence of the facility did not give rise to a public nuisance, said Carol Lynch, RPV city attorney.

“Unless we found some violation of a code provision I would not recommend filing lawsuit,” Lynch said.

For now the City Council agreed to write letters to adjacent cities and regulatory agencies that could in some way offer solutions. Moving the tank farm possibly to an off-shore location, as some have asked for, is probably just not possible, according to the city’s staff report.

“I’m not an extremist, an occupy radical or an anti-oil type of person,” Lacombe said. “This isn’t political. It’s about just one thing: public safety.” ER


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