Saturday, July 2, 2011

NH Takes on Exxon, Shell, BP and Others Over MTBE in State’s Largest Environmental Case

May 30, 2008 by admin  
Filed under Energy & Environment

New Hampshire is taking on big oil in the largest environmental lawsuit in state history. Shell, Exxon Mobil, BP, Citgo, ConocoPhillips, and Chevron are just some of the 26 heavyweight defendants named in the lawsuit. Between the two lies the gasoline additive MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether).

MTBE is an oxygenate that was added to gasoline nationwide to increase the oxygen available for combustion in gasoline. A higher oxygen content in gasoline allows for a cleaner and more complete burn that reduces engine knocking as well as tailpipe emissions. MTBE replaced lead based oxygenates in 1979 and its presence increased after the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. In 1999, 200,000 barrels a day of the additive were being produced in the United States. Federal laws required certain percentages of oxygen to be in gasoline and MTBE was a way to meet those requirements.

Over recent years, MTBE has come under attack as a possible carcinogen and possibly being related to numerous chronic health conditions. Concerns about contaminated ground water from leaks and spills are the center of the lawsuit. A United States Geological Service study found that a fair portion of New Hampshire’s groundwater is now contaminated with MTBE.

In reaction to emerging research, EPA Administrator Browner and Agriculture Secretary Glickman released a legislative framework on March 20, 2000 to encourage immediate Congressional action to reduce or eliminate MTBE. Oil companies have not added any MTBE to gasoline since 2007.

New Hampshire Senior Assistant Attorney General Maureen Smith said, “the state did not have MTBE in the groundwater before the manufacturers added it to their gasoline products, and we think the water should be restored to a pre-MTBE condition.” New Hampshire wants the 26 named defendants to pay for the cleanup cost of the state’s groundwater.

The state is working hard to make the lawsuit progress with speed. To avoid the lengthy process of litigating a case that included every site around the state, the lawsuit is being pushed as a public case, on behalf of the public rather than seeking damages for specific incidents at specific sites. Frustrations arose when the defendants requested copies of more than 2.75 million pages of site-specific information. Litigating the case as a public case and avoiding such specifics is what the Attorney General’s Office is hoping to be the winning strategy in this case that will certainly take more than a morning in court.

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