Public concern over two 40-year-old butane storage tanks operated by a unit of a Houston-based company in San Pedro, CA, fails to recognize the facility’s spotless safety record, the operator maintains.

A Houston-based spokesperson for Rancho LPG Holdings told NGI Thursday that news media coverage has ignored the fact that the regional facility serving various refiners, wholesales and petrochemical plants has been examined over the past two years by nine different regulatory agencies and no significant safety or operating problems were cited.

In addition, the potential impact area if an incident occurred is less than the half-mile radius identified by some risk analysis done for the company in the past two years, the spokespersons said. “There have been no major incidents, releases or accidents since we acquired the facility in the fall of 2008, or for that matter, in the facility’s 38-year history,” he said.

Nevertheless, the fallout from last year’s San Bruno natural gas transmission pipeline rupture appears to have spilled into Southern California stirring up safety concerns. Three different risk scenarios completed in the past two years have stimulated debate, although Rancho LPG officials emphasize the concerns are unfounded.

Residents have dug up historic records regarding the original siting criteria and the site’s proximity to the active Palos Verdes earthquake fault in an area that they contend is known for having naturally occurring methane gas deposits and unstable ground.

The 20-acre facility adjacent to Los Angeles Harbor includes two 12.5 million-gallon refrigerated tanks as well as five 60,000-gallon tanks. The facility was built in 1973-1974. Cold storage of liquid gases (butane, propane and liquefied natural gas, or LNG) is common in California, and there are other tanks like Rancho LPG’s, the spokesperson said.

“In California other cold tanks store the same amount of LPG that the Rancho tanks hold, and they have similar locations relative to population and have undergone similar scrutiny,” the spokesperson said. In the case of the other tanks, the same consultant that Rancho used, Quest Risk Analysis, did a risk assessment for developers who sought to build a shopping mall close to the tanks. The project is now constructed.

“Various LPG facilities are located near high-population areas, near major supply/demand hubs providing propane for home heating and butane for energy demand,” the spokesperson said. “These are the same type of assets that are located in many facilities and refineries around the country.”

A recent report in the Los Angeles Times cited residents near the San Pedro facilities as being concerned about the circular steel storage structures containing up to 25 million gallons of butane in the wake of the September 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion (see Daily GPI, Oct. 11).

The Times report called the latest concerns “an emotional debate” that has raised various horrific scenarios involving fire, explosions and terrorist attacks at the 20-acre facility owned by Rancho LPG, a unit of Plains All American Pipeline in Houston. The company stands behind the operations and maintenance of the twin 80-foot tall tanks, which it said have operated safely for four decades.

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