Exxon pays $12 million over MTBE
Exxon Mobil Corp. agreed Thursday to pay $12 million for its part in the MTBE contamination of 12 South Lake Tahoe drinking water wells.
The South Tahoe Public Utility District has already received $6 million from local service station owners and Atlantic Richfield Co., but district officials plan to continue their legal bid to recover tens of millions in damages.
“The big boys are still out there and we have every intention of going to court,” said district spokesman Dennis Cocking. “If the district prevails in court, this will be a groundbreaking case, the first of its type for MTBE.”
Cocking said Chevron, Shell and Tosco refused to pay even after a series of court-ordered mediations. The utility district wants them to pay for clean-up, monitoring and future well replacements.
In April 2000, El Dorado County banned MTBE gas from being sold in South Lake Tahoe. The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board has spent millions of dollars for small stations that couldn’t afford MTBE clean-up.
MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, is an additive that makes fuel burn more completely. A statewide ban on use of the suspected carcinogen is scheduled in 2003.
The district blames the petroleum companies for the pollution, which contaminated more than a third of its drinking water wells.
Replacing those wells will cost about $18 million if suitable sites are found. Those costs – added to increasing water demand – make a settlement with the other big oil companies even more important, according to Robert Baer, district general manager.
“While this settlement represents a good start, the remaining responsible parties need to heed this decision on Exxon’s part, and step up to the plate as well,” Baer said. “It should be noted that local franchisees of Chevron and Shell have settled and been both responsive and cooperative.”
Although the final MTBE judgment is up to a jury, Cocking said a decision in the district’s favor could amount to tens of millions of dollars.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin Sept. 10 in San Francisco Superior Court.
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