MTBE ban might not be necessary
Local action to get rid of MTBE seems less and less necessary.
The California Energy Commission has informed South Shore officials that more than 80 percent of the service stations on the California side of the Lake Tahoe will be serving MTBE-free gas by July 1. That is the deadline the Lake Tahoe Region Water Preservation Committee – comprised of the South Tahoe Public Utility District, city of South Lake Tahoe and El Dorado County – also wanted South Shore service stations to stop serving the controversial fuel additive.
“It doesn’t seem absolutely necessary to have to do a ban,” said Dawn Forsythe, STPUD information officer and spokeswoman for the newly formed group. “We have no reason to believe these self-imposed commitments won’t come through.”
Gordon Schremp, of the Fuel Resources Office of the Energy Commission, said 81 percent of the service stations, marinas and other fueling stations in the Lake Tahoe portions of El Dorado and Placer counties will be serving MTBE-free fuel by July. Those stations dispense about 85 percent of the area’s fuel.
“I think it’s better than good,” Forsythe said. “Most of us were skeptical with the governor’s announcement (in March about California’s plan to deal with MTBE). It seems to have worked brilliantly. When government wants to get something done, it seems to be able to do it. It’s enough to stun the most committed cynic.”
MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – has been added to California gasoline for years to make gas burn cleaner and reduce air pollution. But the additive is causing water pollution problems statewide, and around Lake Tahoe in particular. Since September 1997, STPUD has closed more than one-third of its drinking water wells because of MTBE contamination.
South Shore officials led the fight to get rid of MTBE, and Gov. Gray Davis in March announced a plan to phase out the additive’s use in California by 2002. The governor also indicated he had a plan to get the additive out of Tahoe’s gas “as soon as possible.” Tahoe officials were initially upset with the decision but quickly reversed their views when Tosco Corporation was able to deliver MTBE-free gasoline to the region by April 15. Since then, Shell and Chevron announced plans to have clean fuel to the basin soon. Now, state officials have added a number of small, independent stations to the list of businesses that will receive gasoline free of the additive.
STPUD, the city and the county formed a cooperative agreement last month, indicating they planned to move forward with a local ban until they were assured it wouldn’t be necessary.
Schremp said many Lake Tahoe distributors, such as Shell stations, likely are receiving MTBE-free fuel now. By July, the gasoline served should be MTBE-free.
“It takes a couple deliveries to flush out the old fuel, to get it down to very minute levels,” Schremp said.
Even in MTBE-free fuel, Schremp said, there likely will be trace levels of the additive.
“It will certainly be a far cry from 11, 12, 13 percent by volume. To go from that to parts per billion. That’s a vast reduction,” he said. “It’s just not technically feasible (to make the fuel 100 percent free of the additive).”
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