State agency erred in its MTBE readings |

State agency erred in its MTBE readings

The California Air Resources Board was forced to do some serious backpedaling on Friday, admitting that much of its recent MTBE testing at South Shore gas stations was erroneous.

As a result, South Tahoe Public Utility District officials are calling for further testing and a detailed analysis of what went wrong.

Last week, CARB tested 15 gas stations at South Shore for MTBE, and on Thursday announced that 11 of those came up with traces of the controversial fuel additive.

But on Friday night, a CARB spokesman said that much of that data was incorrect, and that in fact only four stations were still selling MTBE-laden gas.

“Our original findings in the MTBE testing were incorrect,” Allan Hirsch, a spokesman for CARB, said on Friday. “There was a problem with the analytical equipment. MTBE from one of the fuel samples was not adequately flushed out of the analytical equipment, which therefore would have affected the accuracies of the results thereafter.”

Twenty-five Tahoe-area stations had promised to sell MTBE-free gas by July. So when CARB announced Thursday that 11 of those stations still had MTBE gas, the community was shocked.

Chevron Oil – which had two of its Tahoe stations test positive for MTBE last week – was also taken aback. So Chevron performed its own tests on Thursday and found no MTBE. That prompted CARB to go back an re-test all of the stations, and the error was then uncovered.

“We’re pleased to hear it was a measuring problem,” said Chevron spokesman Mike Libbey.

Stateline Shell, Shell at the “Y,” Chevron at the “Y” and Meyers Chevron all checked out OK on the re-test, according to CARB. But Hirsch reconfirmed that four independent stations were still selling MTBE-laden gas, including three – Terrible Herbst, Stop ‘n Save and Meyers Beacon – which had committed to stop selling it by July 1.

The mistake has left STPUD officials quite annoyed.

“My initial response is that this is incredibly suspicious, and incredibly inept,” STPUD spokesman Dennis Cocking said on Saturday. “What we may have to do is request in writing that they retain all of their samples and re-test everything.

“How could they release data that they weren’t confident of? The timing of this is unbelievably suspicious. They’re telling us that Chevron tested positive, and then Chevron tested their own pumps and requested CARB do a re-test, and lo and behold, Chevron is clean. That’s suspicious. Now I don’t know what to think.”

Cocking said that STPUD will request CARB’s entire report, including full test results, but that the findings would probably not be available until Tuesday.

“One thing I don’t understand is how some stations can get tested and receive zeros, and others get positive readings because the system wasn’t flushed out,” Cocking said. “That’s rather odd.”

MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – is a gasoline additive used widely in California that is considered a possible human carcinogen. It has contaminated as many as 14,000 groundwater sites in the state, including nearly 30 percent of the groundwater supply in the South Tahoe Public Utility District.

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