AG Kane sues oil companies for MTBE pollution

By Jim Boyle | Jul 21, 2014

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane has filed a civil suit against 52 oil and gas

companies in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, claiming that the use of the gasoline additive MTBE has caused widespread pollution and harm to the state's environment.

"When we entrust the Commonwealth to the hands of others we expect that they will care for it as we do, however, when companies pollute something so precious as our water this cannot and will not be overlooked," Kane said.

The suit, filed by Kane and Governor Tom Corbett's General Counsel James Schultz, seeks to recover millions of dollars paid by the Commonwealth to clean up MTBE groundwater pollution.  The lawsuit also seeks monetary damages for the loss of groundwater use and damages for the water resources, as well as injunctive relief, fines and penalties relating to unfair and deceptive trade practices and marketing of MTBE and MTBE gasoline.

Methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), a chemical additive that oil companies manufactured and used in gasoline, was distributed and sold throughout Pennsylvania beginning in the 1970s. The chemical was used to enhance the octane and protect a car's muffler and exhaust system. Commercial production of MTBE began in 1979, and by 1985 it was produced in the United States at a rate of 420 million gallons a year. It was phased out as a gasoline additive in Pennsylvania in 2005.

According to Kane's suit, since 1994, more than 3,000 gasoline releases have occurred from underground storage tanks at gas stations and other petroleum facilities located in every Pennsylvania county. More than 75 percent of these spills and leaks involved MTBE gasoline, which is substantially more difficult to clean up than MTBE-free gasoline.

The lawsuit alleges that the oil companies knew of MTBE's unprecedented risk to groundwater, but nevertheless used it as an additive in gasoline sold in Pennsylvania. It also details how MTBE is more persistent and mobile in groundwater, which increases the size, complexity, duration and cost of MTBE gasoline clean-ups, many of which continue to this day. Minute amounts of MTBE render water non-potable due to foul and putrid smell and taste.

A second lawsuit filed by Kane and Schultz seeks reimbursement of funds, initially disbursed by USTIF to 36 named defendants, to clean up gasoline spills, regardless of whether they were MTBE related or not.

The USTIF lawsuit alleges that the defendants had numerous releases prior to 1994 which were ineligible for reimbursement from the USTIF and that the defendants collected in excess of one billion dollars under their commercial, captive and mutual insurance policies for the same corrective action costs covered by the USTIF.

The USTIF lawsuit further asserts that the defendants chose to not disclose what they knew about the pre-1994 releases and that they failed to inform the Commonwealth about their insurance recoveries.  The Commonwealth alleges that these "double-dip" USTIF payments are prohibited by law.

The case ID number is 140602881.

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