Fine for MTBE violation to be waived |

Fine for MTBE violation to be waived

A big chunk of the $250,000 fine USA Petroleum is required to pay California’s regional water board likely will be waived.

The oil company has notified the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board that the Terrible Herbst gasoline service station is now serving MTBE-free fuel, a condition of a recent agreement between Lahontan and USA.

If USA could get MTBE-free fuel to Terrible Herbst – which USA recently purchased – by Nov. 1, $50,000 of the $250,000 would be waived.

“We think it’s very good news,” said Lisa Dernbach, Lahontan associate engineering geologist. “It reduces the threat to nearby drinking water wells in case a spill occurs.”

The USA station at the “Y” has the largest contaminant plume in the basin, stretching 2,500 feet and contaminating and threatening several South Tahoe Public Utility District drinking water wells. The station’s operators had been delinquent in their cleanup efforts, and Lahontan had issued an administrative civil liability – or fine – to them for $343,000. Prior to a meeting this month, where Lahontan’s board would have decided whether to uphold that fine, USA and Lahontan staff came to an agreement where the oil company would pay $200,000 immediately and try to get MTBE-free gas to the Terrible Herbst station by Nov. 1.

After Gov. Gray Davis’s executive order in March of this year, many stations on the California side of the basin have voluntarily started serving MTBE-free fuel. The “Y” USA station had, but Terrible Herbst had not.

In addition to helping implement the governor’s order, Lahontan officials wanted the MTBE-free fuel at Terrible Herbst because it reduces the risk of future well contamination if there are potential future leaks. MTBE travels quicker in groundwater than other gasoline constituents and degrades much more slowly. MTBE-laden fuel leaking would be more of a threat to STPUD’s nearby Paloma well – one of the district’s biggest producers – than MTBE-free contamination.

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