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EPA threatens to sue butane-storage facility in San Pedro

March 16, 2013 |  6:01 pm

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Saturday that it 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 an investigations of the facility, EPA officials said. 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 owners of the storage facility were 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.

Neighbors and public officials have for decades complained 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 the 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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