Judge Orders MTBE Cleanup

A judge signed an agreement yesterday forcing five major oil companies to clean up sites they own that have been contaminated with the gasoline additive MTBE, as part of a settlement with a San Francisco Bay area environmental group.

The group, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), claimed the companies knew the chemical could leak into groundwater. CBE said the settlement will help protect the state's groundwater by making the laws that require oil companies to clean up MTBE enforceable, according to the Associated Press.

The settlement affects about 700 sites, and another 700 sites are still being contested. The estimated cost of the cleanup is between $150,000 to $275,000 a site, not including the cost of replacing the contaminated water. California is believed to have more than 10,000 contaminated sites, CBE spokesman Denny Larson.

The group sued Shell, Chevron, Texaco, Equilon Enterprises, Unocal, Arco, Tosco, Exxon and Mobil in 1998. The first five have settled, and are covered by Superior Court Judge Stuart Pollack's order.

"What Chevron has agreed to do is what it does as a matter of policy, which is to comply with governmental orders concerning the investigation and clean up of releases from service stations where it's responsible," said Robert Goodman, an attorney representing Chevron.

Arco, Tosco, Exxon and Mobil are still in litigation. Exxon and Mobil have merged since the suit was filed, the report said.

CBE said the companies violated the state's Unfair Competition Act by using MTBE in such a way that it contaminated groundwater. The group sued under that act in 1998 because the chemical is not on a list for the state's Safe Drinking Water & Toxic Enforcement Act, which would have allowed the state to force the companies to clean up their sites.

Equilon is already involved in cleaning up MTBE. "The stipulated judgment that we've agreed to simply allows us to continue to do the remediation we've done in the past and are currently doing," said Cameron Smyth, a spokesman for the company.
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