State to sue oil companies over contamination from gasoline additive

Pennsylvania is suing oil companies over environmental damage caused by a chemical additive used in gasoline, as well as reimbursement over the alleged misuse of state funds to clean up gasoline spills.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane and Gov. Tom Corbett’s General Counsel James Schultz filed separate lawsuits in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Thursday.

The first lawsuit seeks to recover millions of dollars paid by the state to clean up “the widespread pollution and harm done to Pennsylvania’s waters” caused by gasoline containing the additive known as MTBE, according to a statement released by the state attorney general’s office.

Methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) is a chemical additive that oil companies used in gasoline beginning in the 1970s. It was phased out as a gasoline additive in Pennsylvania in 2005.

The lawsuit also seeks monetary damages for the loss of groundwater use and damages to water resources, as well as injunctive relief, fines and penalties relating to unfair and deceptive trade practices and marketing of MTBE and MTBE gasoline.

“When we entrust the Commonwealth to the hands of others we expect that they will care for it as we do, however, when companies pollute something so precious as our water this cannot and will not be overlooked,” said Ms. Kane said in a statement issued late Thursday.

"MTBE-related spills over the past 20 years have cost Pennsylvania hundreds of millions of dollars," said Mr. Schultz in a joint statement. "We cannot take the health of Pennsylvania’s waters for granted and their protection must remain our utmost priority."

Since 1994, more than 3,000 gasoline releases have occurred from underground storage tanks at gas stations and other petroleum facilities in every Pennsylvania county, according to the attorney general’s office. More than 75 percent of these spills and leaks involved MTBE gasoline, which is substantially more difficult to clean up than MTBE-free gasoline.

The lawsuit alleges that the oil companies knew of MTBE’s risk to groundwater, but still used it as an additive.

The suit also “details how MTBE is more persistent and mobile in groundwater, which increases the size, complexity, duration and cost of MTBE gasoline clean-ups, many of which continue to this day,” according to the attorney general’s office. “Minute amounts of MTBE render water non-potable due to foul and putrid smell and taste.”

A number of other states and governmental bodies are suing or have sued oil companies for MTBE groundwater pollution, with substantial financial recoveries achieved.

The statement did not list which oil companies were named in the suit, or how many companies were named. The attorney general’s office did not return phone calls.

A second lawsuit seeks reimbursement of money disbursed by the Pennsylvania Underground Storage Tank Indemnification Fund to 36 named defendants to clean up gasoline spills, regardless of whether they were MTBE related or not.

The Underground Storage Tank Indemnification Fund lawsuit alleges that the “defendants had numerous releases prior to 1994 that were ineligible for reimbursement from the USTIF and that the defendants collected in excess of $1 billion under their commercial, captive and mutual insurance policies for the same corrective action costs covered by the USTIF.”

The Underground Storage Tank Indemnification Fund lawsuit also states that the defendants chose to not disclose what they knew about the pre-1994 releases and that they failed to inform the state about their insurance recoveries. The state alleges that these “double-dip” payments are prohibited by law and that the oil companies must return the payments.

Stephanie Ritenbaugh: or 412-263-4910 First Published June 19, 2014 6:07 PM

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