Lest you think that hydro-fracking is the only threat to your drinking water these days (check out Sean and Yoko’s anti-fracking press conference on Friday, with Sean pleading to save the drinking water at his – formerly his dad's – upstate New York home), let me assure you that this is but one of the many ways the oil and gas industry have tried to poison you. Or as Yoko unforgettably put it, “Fracking kills. So it’s such a pity that we're going to do that, we’re going to commit suicide all together?" Learn more here.
Today, jury selection begins in the state of New Hampshire’s case against ExxonMobil and Citgo. The state is asking these companies “to pay more than $700 million in damages to monitor and clean up groundwater contamination caused by the gas additive MTBE — methyl tertiary butyl ether — now banned in New Hampshire.”
The lawsuit — filed in 2003 — is the only one brought by a state to reach trial on the issue of MTBE groundwater contamination. Most of the other MTBE cases nationwide were brought by municipalities, water districts or individual well owners, and all but one was settled or dismissed.… New Hampshire banned its use in 2007 [and] roughly 60 percent of New Hampshire’s population gets its drinking water from wells.
MTBE is a highly toxic chemical that has been added to gasoline since the late 1970s and has contaminated water supplies in every state in the nation. U.S. Geological Survey experts estimate that there may be 250,000 leaking underground storage tank releases of MTBE. (See our coverage last year when the industry was trying to get immunity from Congress.)
The oil companies are claiming preemption – that “by adding MTBE to gasoline, they were complying with a U.S. mandate to supply fuel that would burn more cleanly,” even though there were obviously safer alternatives that wouldn't poison underground aquifers supplying half of the nation’s drinking water. And they’re claiming that the statute of limitations has run. And they’re claiming, “This case is not about health risks or personal injuries … There is not a single recorded case of anyone getting sick from drinking water with MTBE. The majority of the state’s damage claims are based on computer models and projections not on actual testing or data.”
Wow, that’s ball-sy of them, especially since New Hampshire sued in 2003, every other oil company has already settled with the state.
The fact is that that these companies had extensive knowledge of the toxicity of MTBE in groundwater yet voluntarily used it as a gasoline additive for decades without alerting their customers, the public, or Congress of the potential hazards. That is certainly what a California jury believed in 2002, when it decided that the several major oil companies acted “with malice” and were liable for polluting ground water with MTBE and withholding information.
Over to you, New Hampshire jurors!