Tests reveal Tahoe is not MTBE-free; STPUD officials shocked | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tests reveal Tahoe is not MTBE-free; STPUD officials shocked

Andy Bourelle

California and Lake Tahoe officials were shocked Thursday when they learned many South Shore gas stations, although having promised to sell MTBE-free gas by July of this year, are selling fuel laden with the controversial additive.

“Our understanding is many of these service stations had committed to (the California Energy Commission) to selling non-MTBE gas by July 1. This is surprising and disappointing,” said Allan Hirsch, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board. “We’re in the process of trying to find out what happened.”

Hirsch said CARB last week came to South Shore and tested 15 service stations for MTBE. Eleven contained at least 11 percent MTBE, the state average.

Of those 11 stations, at least eight had previously committed to the California government to be MTBE-free by July, Hirsch said.

To the South Tahoe Public Utility District, which has closed more than a third of its wells because of MTBE contamination and led the fight to get it out of Tahoe’s gas, hearing the news “is like someone kicked our legs out from under us.”

“I think this shows the big oil companies’ utter disregard not only for the health and water supply of South Lake Tahoe but for the governor of California and their own retailers,” said Dennis Cocking, STPUD spokesman. “I think they’ve misled everyone. Our level of trust was never strong; it’s come down even lower.”

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.

Gov. Davis in March ordered that companies stop adding MTBE to gasoline by Dec. 31, 2002. He 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.

Many other companies and independent stations followed suit, committing to the state their ability to be MTBE-free by July 1.

Cocking said district officials believe South Shore’s station owners likely had no knowledge of their gas contained the additive.

“I think they’ve been left twisting in the wind,” he said.

Two Union 76 stations – owned by Tosco, the first company claiming to provide clean fuel – were MTBE-free.

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