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Some Oil Companies Settle Suit Over Chemical Cleanup

The New York Times: Some Oil Companies Settle Suit Over Chemical Cleanup

Published: May 9, 2008

Several major oil companies have agreed to pay the Suffolk County Water Authority $74 million for the cost of filtering a potentially hazardous additive in gasoline that has leaked from storage tanks into the groundwater, the agency said on Thursday.

The money is part of a national settlement involving nearly 160 suits filed by water suppliers in 15 states against various oil companies that sell gasoline. The suits seek compensation for cleaning up the additive methyl tert-butyl ether, known as MTBE. Critics claim that MTBE is potentially carcinogenic, which the companies dispute, but it is now banned in the United States.

About 70 percent of the companies that were sued agreed to settle all the suits for $423 million, so Suffolk is receiving about a sixth of the total.

But the remaining companies refused to settle and will contest the suits in a jury trial scheduled for September in United States District Court in Manhattan, where the national litigation was consolidated.

MTBE contaminated more than 450 water wells in Suffolk over the last two decades, the water agency said. Its chief executive, Steve Jones, estimated that the cost of filtration to ensure the water’s safety was $50 million to $100 million. The agency supplies water to 1.3 million residents, and the entire supply is pumped from the ground.

The companies that settled issued a statement contending that MTBE is not hazardous but calling the resolution “fair and prudent.”

Rick Wallace of Wallace, King, Domike & Reiskin, who represented Chevron and Shell in the settlement, said that the companies should not be penalized, because MTBE was added in response to federal rules seeking to promote cleaner combustion.

Exxon Mobil is among the companies that refused to settle. One of its lawyers, Peter J. Sacripanti, said: “Exxon’s conduct has been lawful. The plaintiffs have not been damaged or injured. and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

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