STPUD no longer suspicious about MTBE readings |

STPUD no longer suspicious about MTBE readings

The South Tahoe Public Utility District’s fears that the state of California’s conflicting announcements about MTBE-free gas at Lake Tahoe were “unbelievably suspicious” have been ameliorated.

However, confirmed reports that seven of the 15 gas stations within the utility’s service area are still serving MTBE-laden fuel have STPUD officials disappointed.

“We’re discouraged, but we hope this (controversy) helps draw some attention to who is and who isn’t,” said Dennis Cocking, STPUD information officer. “I hope the residents of the Tahoe Basin take note of that and vote with their wallets, and not buy gas from the stations with MTBE. I guarantee that will be the quickest way to get people into compliance.”

The California Air Resources Board between Aug. 23 and 27 performed routine sampling at South Shore’s 15 service stations. Most of the stations had promised the state of California they would be serving MTBE-free gas by that time. However, CARB reported on Sept. 2 that it found 11 of them were serving fuel with at least 11 percent MTBE, the state average.

Chevron Oil, which had two stations test positive for MTBE, was surprised and hurriedly did its own testing, finding no MTBE. CARB re-analyzed the samples and announced the next day it had made a mistake. Shell and Chevron were exonerated. STPUD was suspicious.

However, the district Monday received information from CARB showing the state’s testing error.

“The good news is the stations, particularly the major suppliers which said they were MTBE-free, are MTBE-free. They don’t have MTBE in their gas as we thought they did,” Cocking said. “We’re happy we haven’t taken some steps backward, and I think in the future they will try to verify their data before they release it.”

MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – is a gasoline additive used widely in California. It is considered a possible human carcinogen and has contaminated as many as 14,000 groundwater sites in the state. More than a third of STPUD’s wells have been closed because of MTBE-contaminated groundwater.

Gov. Gray Davis in March ordered that companies stop adding MTBE to gasoline by Dec. 31, 2002. He also ordered the California Energy Commission to work with oil companies 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.

Many other companies and independent stations followed suit, committing to the state their ability to be MTBE-free by July 1. Others said they would be MTBE-free by the end of August.

Allan Hirsch, spokesman for CARB, said four of the seven still serving MTBE had committed to the state to be MTBE-free: Stop N’ Save, Terrible Herbst, Meyers Beacon and Lake Tahoe Gas and Wash. The three other MTBE-serving stations were 7-Eleven, Tahoe Tom’s and Road Runner.

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