MTBE proponents fight bad name |

MTBE proponents fight bad name

by Andy Bourelle

While it may seem like everyone at Lake Tahoe is calling for a ban of MTBE, not everyone feels that way.

The Oxygenated Fuels Association is one agency trying to inform the governor that eliminating MTBE would be a bad idea.

“The point that is coming out is California’s air quality improvements are directly attributable to (reformulated gasoline),” said Terry Wigglesworth, executive director of the Oxygenated Fuels Association. “California will not maintain the same air quality if MTBE is banned or phased out.”

To the association, which represents people and agencies who support cleaner-burning gasoline, the answer to the problem is having state-of-the-art underground storage systems.

“When you have MTBE in the ground, it’s a result of a gasoline spill. The gas will be there regardless of whether you have MTBE in it,” Wigglesworth said.

Most problems are caused by historical leaks, she added.

By December 1998, all owners of underground storage tanks in the country were required to upgrade their systems. Those who haven’t are no longer able to serve gas.

“The facts are it’s getting better,” she said.

The South Tahoe Public Utility District, which has closed more than one-third of its wells because of the threat of MTBE contamination, disagrees with that theory.

“We believe there are no underground fuel tanks that are perfect and won’t leak,” said Chris Strohm, vice president of STPUD’s board of directors. “The tank may not leak but the system can fail. There’s poor maintenance by operators, overfills, spills at the pump. It happens. You can install the perfect system, and you’ll still have leaks.”

While it may seem like support for eliminating MTBE may be in the majority, the Oxygenated Fuels Association is confident that Gov. Gray Davis will soon take action after the public hearings that is supportive of its beliefs.

“The bottom line is you don’t want dirty air or dirty water. You can have both,” she said. “You can do that by cleaning up tanks, having better monitoring, things like that.”

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