LA’s Port has a Bomb in Its Back Yard and Everybody’s Worried but the City

WHO’S PROTECTING WHOM? - (This is the 2nd in a series) City Attorney Carmen Trutanich questioned all the concern about the Rancho/Plains Liquid Petroleum Gas facility stating, “It’s no more hazardous than your local gas station.” Let’s debate that for a moment.

Liquid Petroleum Gas is defined by the United States Coast Guard as a “commodity of particular hazard.”  And, rightfully so.  


There are several factors about the Rancho/Plains facility and its stored gas which make it uniquely dangerous.  Many of these factors relate directly to the properties of butane and propane.  

The nature of these materials is that they are gases at ordinary temperatures and pressures.  But; they can exist in a liquid state, by means of chilling or compression.  Such is the case with the refrigerated and pressurized tank storage at Rancho/Plains LPG.  

As soon as any liquid escapes from a tank, it will immediately turn back into a gaseous state.  

When it vaporizes, it increases more than 200 times its original volume as a liquid.  So, the impound basin, which was designed to hold the liquid contents of one tank, won’t be able to contain the vapor, which will overflow into the storm drain and onto Gaffey Street.   

The vapor is heavier than air, so that it hugs the ground and will flow downhill, like the dry-ice cloud used in theatrical productions.  

This change from liquid to gas happens so rapidly that it creates a ‘vapor phase explosion,’ called a pressure wave and can do damage even before the gas ignites!  

The butane or propane vapor then flows invisibly until it finds an ignition source.  There are five sources of ignition on the Rancho site. A passing car or static charge can also ignite the LPG vapor.   

Another quality of LPG which makes it ultra hazardous is its flammability.  

Think of this point as you flick your Bic lighter or light your barbecue.  A flammable liquid must “vaporize” before it will burn, and LPG vaporizes instantly or almost instantly, whereas gasoline will vaporize at a rate 1/22 of propane and 1/5 that of butane.  

LPG and gasoline will both burn readily, but gasoline fires may be extinguished by using fire-fighting foam, which extinguishes the fire by blocking off the oxygen.  With butane and propane (LPG), water is useful only to cool surrounding surfaces to keep the fire from spreading –it will NOT extinguish the fire!

Petroleum products are lighter than water, so water tends to only spread the burning liquid.  

The American Petroleum Institute does not recommend foam for LPG fires.  The reason is that foam is warmer than the liquid butane and so the use of it simply warms it faster and hastens evaporation, and therefore, promotes burning!  

So, how do you fight LPG fires?  You let them burn themselves out!

The question then becomes, “In the event of a catastrophic event at Rancho/Plains LPG … of which the opportunities are many ... how many days or weeks will it take for 26 Million Gallons, over 122 Million pounds of Liquid Petroleum Gas ... to burn itself out?  

With burning temperatures exceeding 3500 degrees Fahrenheit, (hot enough to melt steel) how many other refineries, fuel terminals and pipelines are going to ignite and add to the inferno?  

What other disasters will have been created by the enormous blast wave from the initial explosion?  

The severe concussion from the blast on the Palos Verdes Fault (on which the facility sits) may well trigger not only an earthquake on that fault but on the network of intersecting faults on that earthquake grid.  

The possibilities are great and the devastation potentially staggering.

Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that there has NEVER been an official risk analysis performed on this facility to establish the real liability to residents or to the City of LA.  

The hazard has always been noted, hence the Port of LA’s decision to have it located on property other than their own because of risks to the Port.  Every time an LPG ship entered or left the Port of LA, all other ship activity was stopped while the LPG ship moved its way through the harbor channel due to extreme safety precautions demanded by the Coast Guard authorities.

In 2005, the Port and LA City Council ruled against the renewal of the LPG Company’s pipeline and wharf for ocean shipping due to its extreme hazard.  City Council member, Cindy Miscikowski, expressed her great concern after hearing about the volatile nature of the Rancho/Plains facility urging for the relocation of the facility in the interest of public safety.

In 2007, Council member Janice Hahn introduced a motion once again regarding the continuing fight by Amerigas for the port wharf renewal with statements from the company insisting that shipping by rail and truck, as they would now be forced to do, was inherently more dangerous and a greater threat to communities.  

The City Council action also referenced the inappropriateness of this LPG facility to remain in the community “indefinitely”.  The wharf renewal was finally formally denied. Council’s concern was neatly filed away.

Explosion Specialist, Nina Scotti recently stated after a review of the information on Rancho LPG: “The slightest leak can cause mass destruction.  25 million gallons of butane and 300,000 gallons of propane; there is no safe distance in this city. This facility needs to be addressed now and on its own.  It should not be grouped with other facilities that can create an even greater hazard.”

So, the responsible parties for this extraordinary threat to the region, the Port  and City of Los Angeles remain inert and derelict in their duty to act in the best interest of the people.

At least one answer appears to be fairly simple.  Plains has a $400,000,000 Deep Water Crude Terminal ready to break ground in the Port of LA. The Port does not have a signed lease agreement with Plains at this point.  No lease agreement should be signed until the Rancho facility has been removed!  

The Port Exec. Director, Geraldine Knatz and Mayor Villaraigosa should be made the focus of the "move Rancho" effort.  This facility represents a public safety disaster waiting to happen. Nothing else on this Crude Terminal project should move forward unless the Rancho site is relocated and removed as a threat.  

Additionally, there are Environmental Reduction Credits (ERC’s) available for the Plains project through the ACTI emission recovery system.  Plains should be forced to use a system that captures all  the emissions and thus generate over $50,000,000 in ERCs within 18 mos.  This money could be used to move the Rancho site at NO cost to the Port, the City, or Plains.  

Plains is already under a mandate to use the system in their EIR.  Concentrating on a higher percentage  emission capture, rather than 50%, would require Plains to buy a larger system to capture the "boiler emissions" (which are not being addressed) when the ship is at berth. This additional cost could also be recovered with ERCs.  

It’s time for the City and Port of LA to stop playing the role of Pontius Pilate in washing their hands of the actions that have so incredibly violated the public trust.  It is only right that Los Angeles find the guts to resume their proper leadership role by removing this flagrant threat and restoring the protection of all Harbor area residents … before it is too late.  We don’t care how they do it.  We just want it done.  

(Jody James is a long time resident of and activist in San Pedro. James is currently engaged in the battle to make her community safe for the families who live and work there. This is the 2nd in a CityWatch series on this issue. ) –cw

Tags:  Los Angeles Port, LA Port, POLA, Rancho/Plains LPG, Janice Hahn, San Pedro, liquid gas, propane





CityWatch
Vol 10 Issue 56
Pub: July 13, 2012