Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Last week, eight of the major oil companies settled in a law suit regarding the cleaning up of M.T.B.E. -- a chemical that used to be added to gasoline to make it burn cleaner.

The NY Times reported on the 8th:

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs, which include 153 public water systems in New York, California and 15 other states, claimed that the additive, a chemical called methyl tertiary butyl ether, or M.T.B.E., was a defective product that led to widespread contamination of groundwater. The suit contended that the chemical was used by oil companies, even though they knew of the environmental and health risks that it posed.

Trying to retell a big story is nerve wracking, and this one, has a lot of holes. I can't find, for example, what the health risk are -- or what it means when water becomes undrinkable. I can't find what's been done or what is planned.

There was an attempt by congress in 2003 to shield oil companies from all culpability. It didn't pass the senate.

A series of sentences and paragraphs from EPA papers and the NY Times:

Methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) has been used as a gasoline additive to serve two major purposes. First, MTBE was used as an octane-enhancer to replace organic lead, beginning in about 1979. Beginning in about 1992, MTBE was also used as a fuel oxygenate additive to meet requirements of the Clean Air Act Amendments (CAAA) of 1990.


MTBE and other petroleum hydrocarbons can "dive" into aquifers because of infiltration of surface water, stratigraphy, and pumping wells.


Releases of MTBE to ground and surface water can occur through leaking underground storage tanks and pipelines, spills, emissions from marine engines into lakes and reservoirs, and to some extent from air deposition.


This was from an article by the Environmental Working Group -- it seems to be undated, but from the time the detections were beginning.


Also rising rapidly are lawsuits against the oil companies by communities whose water is contaminated with MTBE. Since September 2003, at least 141 water systems in 16 states have filed suits arguing that MTBE is a defective product, and that refiners knew that it would contaminate groundwater before they began adding it to gasoline but failed to warn consumers. In 2002 that argument, outlined in devastating detail in industry documents, convinced a jury to find Shell, Texaco and four other companies liable for contaminating drinking water supplies in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., forcing a $60 million settlement for cleanup. In 2003, Shell, Exxon, ChevronTexaco and 15 other companies settled a contamination lawsuit brought by Santa Monica, Calif., by agreeing to spend an estimated $200 million on a filtration system to remove MTBE from the city's water supplies.


MTBE contamination as low as two parts per billion — two drops in an Olympic-sized swimming pool — can produce a harsh chemical odor and taste that can cause tap water to be undrinkable


The American Water Works Association, representing 4,700 U.S. water systems, estimates nationwide MTBE cleanup and water replacement costs at $29 billion — and rising with each new detection..


The 2000 Times article said,
In 1985, state officials found the additive near the home of a neighborhood woman at the extraordinary level of 100,000 parts per billion, they said. The woman, Mary Curcio, has moved, and could not be reached for comment.

The whole thing, it seems, lead to the use of ethanol.
The whole thing, it seems to me, is largely secret.

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