Sep 21, 2016

Rhode Island Sues 34 Oil Companies for Groundwater Contamination

MTBE leaked from underground storage tanks into groundwater, soil

rhode island, lawsuit, court, mtbe, water, oil, exxonmobil, BP, shell

The state of Rhode Island has filed a lawsuit in federal court against 34 oil companies for allegedly contaminating groundwater and soil with the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE). The MTBE leaked from underground storage tanks. The 34 defendants include ExxonMobil, British Petroleum, Chevron, Shell, Sunoco and ConocoPhillips.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) seeks to recover the cleanup costs associated with MTBE. The most notable case was the contamination of drinking water in Burrillville, R.I., which resulted in the closure of wells in 2001.

MTBE was used to boost engine performance until it was banned in the state in 2007. Low levels of MTBE can make water undrinkable because of the turpentine-like odor and taste. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), at high doses, it is considered a potential human carcinogen.

“MTBE has caused significant groundwater contamination throughout Rhode Island,” said DEM Director Janet Coit. “And although it is no longer in use, MTBE’s effects on our environment persist, threatening our families, wildlife and precious natural resources.”

According to the attorney general’s office and DEM, in previous legal actions against the oil industry for MTBE contamination in other parts of the country, documents obtained from gasoline manufacturers revealed that they knew the compound would leak from storage tanks and taint water supplies. In Rhode Island, the oil companies have failed to voluntarily offer reimbursement to the state.

“The state has incurred significant costs to remove MTBE from sites where it has leaked into soils and groundwater, costs that should not be borne by the state or by taxpayers, but by the companies who knew that their product would cause this contamination,” Kilmartin said.