Gas Station Owner Faces Fines

BEDMINSTER, Pa. -- As part of a statewide crackdown on MTBE contamination, the former and current owners of a gas station believed to have caused water contamination in Bedminster face fines and penalties, state environmental officials say.

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently began the process of determining what enforcement action to take against Farm & Home Oil of Telford, the former owner of the Exxon convenience store, and Topper Petroleum of Allentown, the current owner. The DEP requested more than a dozen documents from the two firms. The agency is considering action more than two years after MTBE, a potential cancer-causing gas additive, was found in at least 25 wells near the gas station, Courier (Pa.) Times.

Shawn Mountain, a DEP compliance specialist, said his department might negotiate with the two firms to avoid arguments and challenges that can be costly and time-consuming for the agency. The DEP has already been mired in a yearlong dispute with Farm & Home's engineering firm over responsibility for the tainted water wells. The engineering firm claims the gas station isn't solely to blame for the problem, the report said.

Mountain said investigators might never determine precisely what caused MTBE to make its way into homeowners' private wells. The DEP has always considered the Exxon gas station a potentially responsible party. Farm & Home has already paid to provide bottled water and carbon filter systems to homeowners after the contamination was made public in May 2000. The company is also in the process of cleaning the tainted water with a machine that pulls water from the ground, removes MTBE and releases the water back into the environment.

The DEP's decision on fines could depend heavily on the documents it recently requested. The state has asked for some of those records two or three times already, but never received them, Mountain said.

The state is seeking primarily records related to the station's operation, leak detection equipment for underground gasoline storage tanks and corrosion protection equipment. The content of that paperwork and the companies' cooperation in turning it over will weigh heavily when the DEP decides whether to penalize the firms, the report said.