Oct. 2, 2009 Bloomberg News
Exxon says it didn't poison NYC's water with additive
Exxon Mobil Corp. didn't poison New York City's water wells with a gasoline additive meant to improve air quality, a lawyer for the company told jurors.
New York City accuses Exxon Mobil, the biggest U.S. oil company, of poisoning five wells in and near the Jamaica area of the borough of Queens with methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE.
“This case is about a PCE problem in Queens,” Anthony Bongiorno, a lawyer for Exxon Mobil, told jurors today in closing arguments. “Exxon Mobil doesn't manufacture PCE. They got the wrong party.” Bongiorno referred to perchloroethylene, a chemical used in dry-cleaning clothes, which the company says is the main cause of the area's contamination.
The Exxon Mobil case is part of larger litigation over MTBE. More than 70 lawsuits filed by water providers and state and local governments were consolidated before U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in Manhattan for pretrial information- gathering, according to an industry Web site.
BP Plc, Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, Hess Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc were among 33 companies that settled with New York. Exxon Mobil, based in Irving, was the lone holdout.
The jury will decide whether the company is liable for contamination in the wells and, if so, how much it should pay. It found against the company in two earlier phases of the trial.
If the panel rules against the company in this phase, it will decide on punitive damages in a fourth.
The city says it wants to build a water-treatment plant for the wells called Station 6 that will clean 10 million gallons of water per day. Exxon Mobil lawyers argued in the trial that the wells were turned off and unusable because of contaminants other than MTBE, including PCE.
Exxon and Mobil, which merged in 1999, began using MTBE in the 1980s to boost octane. Additives such as MTBE are chemical compounds that raise the oxygen content of gasoline to make it burn more cleanly and efficiently. The U.S. Congress amended the Clean Air Act in 1990 to require companies to add an oxygenate to gasoline to reduce air pollution.
The city argues the company could have used ethanol as an oxygenate in New York. It used MTBE to save 3 cents a gallon, it says.
The city said MTBE renders water undrinkable by making it smell and taste like turpentineテレビン油. It can cause dizziness, nausea and nervous-system disorders, the city said. The city said it may cause cancer, which Exxon Mobil denies.
Bongiorno, a partner at McDermott Will & Emery in New York, reminded jurors that an expert for the city testified that MTBE affects the taste and odor of water at 14 or 15 parts per billion.
In an earlier phase of the trial, the jury ruled that MTBE will contaminate the wells' output at a peak level of 10 parts per billion in 2033. It had also ruled that the city intends to build a plant to treat the water.
Bongiorno said there was no evidence that Exxon Mobil caused harm by failing to warn about MTBE's dangers or that the company purposefully “trespassed” on the groundwater.
“There's no evidence that the city intended to put gasoline in the city's groundwater,” he said.
There's no evidence for the city's contention that the company created a “nuisance,” he said. “Exxon Mobil didn't interfere with anyone's right to use a cesspool - a cesspool before any MTBE.”
William Stack, an in-house lawyer at Exxon Mobil, told the jurors that the city's $60 million cost estimate to treat the five wells for MTBE is “grossly inflated.”
New York treated five other wells for MTBE in 2003 at a total cost of $3.17 million, he said. Any treatment of PCE would take care of the MTBE, Stack said.
Bongiorno told jurors that Exxon Mobil couldn't have used ethanol in the 1980s and 1990s because there wasn't enough of it available and at the time it ruined certain engine parts.
“They used it in the Midwest,” Robert Chapman, a lawyer for the city, countered in his closing argument. “It could have been used everywhere.”
The case comes down to a simple question, said Chapman, of Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP in Los Angeles: “Can Exxon pollute the city's groundwater and get away with it? Can Exxon put MTBE into the city's groundwater and have a license to pollute?”
Chapman said Exxon Mobil knew of MTBE's dangers as early as the 1980s and tried to hide it. He said it engaged in “suppressing information, not only a failure to warn.”
An accusation of failure to warn of a product's dangers must include a showing that a warning would have resulted in a benefit, Chapman said.
The evidence showed there would have been a benefit, he said, because once the dangers of MTBE became known, New York and more than two dozen other states banned its use.
August 28, 2009
Exxon Loses Second Phase of New York Water-Well Trial
Exxon Mobil Corp. lost the second phase of a trial in which New York City accused the company of poisoning the city’s groundwater, with a jury ruling that a gasoline additive will remain in water wells for years.
The case is part of larger litigation over methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE. More than 70 lawsuits filed by water providers and state and local governments were consolidated before U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin for pretrial information-gathering, according to an industry Web site.
An 11-member jury decided today that MTBE will contaminate the output of six affected wells at a peak level of 10 parts per billion in 2033. The verdict came on the third day of deliberations, less than two hours after jurors told Scheindlin they were deadlocked on a part of the case.
BP Plc, Chevron Corp.,ConocoPhillips, Hess Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell Plc. were among 33 companies that settled the case. Exxon Mobil, based in Irving, Texas, was the lone holdout.
“Even if small amounts are detected 15 or 20 years from now, that still would not change the fact that Exxon Mobil is not the source, nor would it establish the City’s claim for future damages during the next phase of the trial,” Kevin Allexon, an Exxon Mobil spokesman, said in a statement today.
The jury panel will next decide whether Exxon Mobil is liable for poisoning the water and, if so, how much it should pay. Exxon Mobil, the biggest U.S. oil company, may face millions of dollars in damages.
The trial concerns six wells, five of which New York says are poisoned with MTBE, in and near the Jamaica area of the borough of Queens. The city says it wants to build a water- treatment plant there called Station 6 that will clean 10 million gallons of water per day.
Exxon Mobil lawyers argued during the trial that the wells were turned off and unusable because of contaminants other than MTBE.
The wells are “located in an industrial cesspool that has nothing to do with MTBE,” Peter Sacripanti, a lawyer for Exxon Mobil at McDermott Will & Emery in New York, told jurors in his opening statement.
Exxon and Mobil, which merged in 1999, began using MTBE in the 1980s to boost octane. The U.S. Congress amended the Clean Air Act in 1990 to require companies to add an oxygenate to gasoline to reduce air pollution. Additives such as MTBE are chemical compounds that raise the oxygen content of gasoline to make it burn more cleanly and efficiently.
Exxon could have used ethanol as an oxygenate in New York, Victor Sher, a lawyer for the city with San Francisco-based Sher Leff LLP, told jurors. The company used MTBE to save 3 cents a gallon, he said. “They chose making money over protecting the public’s health and the environment,” Sher said.
The city argued that MTBE renders water undrinkable by making it smell and taste like turpentine. It can cause dizziness, nausea and nervous-system disorders, the city said. Sher said it also can cause cancer, which Sacripanti denied.
The MTBE removal would add $54 million to $70 million in capital costs and $120 million to $258 million in operating and maintenance costs over 40 years, according to a report by the environmental consulting firm Malcolm Pirnie Inc., done for the city.
If Exxon Mobil is found liable for poisoning the water, the fourth phase of the trial will decide what, if any, punitive damages will be imposed.
The case is City of New York v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 04-cv- 3417, grouped with others in the master-file case, In Re: Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (“MTBE”) Products Liability Litigation, 00-cv-1898, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
|August 12, 2009
NYC Wins First Phase In MTBE Trial Against Exxon
A federal jury found in favor of New York City on Wednesday in the first phase of a trial against Exxon Mobil Corp., which the city alleges poisoned groundwater wells in Queens with a gasoline additive.
The city initially sued about 30 oil companies several years ago, saying their use of methyl tertiary-butyl ether, or MTBE, as an octane-increasing agent in gasoline poisoned wells
May 9, 2008 San Francisco Business Times
Chevron, other oil companies settle MTBE cases
In what is the largest settlement to date over the gasoline additive MTBE, Chevron Corp. and dozens of other oil companies agreed to pay $423 million to settle 59 separate cases in 17 states that were brought by 160 water providers and 340 people.
Plaintiffs in a 60th case are seeking to dismiss their claims against Chevron and the other oil companies.
The settlement calls for the companies to pay for cleanup costs for up to 30 years. The suits settled claims of groundwater contamination from MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether, an additive oil companies and refiners began using in the late 1970s to raise the octane of gas and lower exhaust emissions.
Amendments to the Clean Air Act required oil companies to use the additive, especially in colder winter weather. The chemical compound, which has polluted swaths of groundwater after leaking from storage tanks, was found to cause cancer in rats and mice, but data on human exposure is too limited to conclusively call it a human carcinogen, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. California and New York are among 23 states the have banned the additive.
The oil companies maintain they are not liable for the damages alleged by the plaintiffs, but decided to settle in part to avoid incurring further costs to continue the litigation, "as well as the desire to avoid the uncertainty of trial," the settlement memo stated.
The settlement terms were submitted to the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York Wednesday for approval. Individual company contributions and the formula that determined those contributions are confidential, according to the settlement memo.
The settling defendants include several companies: BP
, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Tosco Corp., Shell Oil Co., Ultamar
Inc., Valero Energy Corp. , Hess Corp..
ExxonMobil, the largest oil company in the United States, was not a party to the settlement, according to a report in Thursday's Wall Street Journal.
San Ramon-based Chevron is still litigating 29 other MTBE cases that were not part to the settlement, according to Chevron's quarterly report filed Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
正式にはメチルターシャリブチルエーテルと呼ばれるMTBEは、ガソリンの燃焼効果を上げ大気汚染を低減するために1990年代にガソリンに添加され た。しかし、飲料水の味を悪くし、さらに発がん性があり得るとして、飲料水中に混入していることがすぐに問題となった。カリフォルニア州では2003年に 使用を止めた。
5月7日に発表された合意は、17の州で個別に起こされた59件の訴訟について和解するものであるが、最終的にはひとつにまとめられた。シェブロンを含 むアメリカの大石油会社のほとんどはこの和解に合意したが、エクソン・モビルは合意しなかった。各社はそれぞれいくら支払うのかについては明らかにしな かった。
1990年代の初めに連邦大気浄化法は、スモッグの多い地域で売られるガソリンには大気汚染を削減するのに役立つ添加剤を含めることを義務付けた。エタ ノールとMTBEは最も広く使用された添加剤であった。カリフォルニア州当局は、どちらの添加剤を使用しなくても連邦大気汚染基準をを満たすことができた と主張したが、却下された。
カリフォルニア州のMTBE地下水汚染の事例は欧州環境庁の環境レポート2001 『レイト・レッスンズ 14の事例から学ぶ予防原則』（日本語版：七つ森書館発行）でひとつの事例 「第11章 鉛の代替としてガソリンに入れられたMTBE」 として取り上げられている。MTBEの本質的な問題は不可逆的な難分解性である。同様な特質を持つ物質にPFOSやPFOAなどの過フッ素化合物がある。
・EWG in the News, December 15, 2005 テフロン化学物質デュポン−ＥＰＡ 危険報告義務違反訴訟 史上最高の過料で和解
Blog Post by Media Intern, Malia Tice
Exxon Mobil has been accused of several wrong doings in the past and this latest ordeal is another notch on the belt. New York City claims that Exxon Mobil knew that a certain additive used in their gasoline would contaminate groundwater, but went ahead and used the additive anyway…why care about people when you can make $39.5 billion in one year by simply exploiting them?
The additive, M.T.B.E. (methyl tert-butyl ether), is a “chemical compound used to replace lead in gasoline as an octane enhancer” and reportedly improves engine performance, prevents knocking, burns more cleanly and reduces tailpipe emissions. Even though the chemical additive seems like a great little chemical, it is highly water soluble and therefore easily contaminates drinking water and to put the icing on the cake, the chemical is also considered a carcinogen. Luckily, there is an easy solution to the M.T.B.E. conundrum; use ethanol instead. Ethanol has all the same benefits of M.T.B.E., but no harmful side effects. Unfortunately, Exxon Mobile is right in knowing that ethanol is slightly more expensive than M.T.B.E., why would anyone compromise nearly $40 billion in profits to save some water? Well not Exxon Mobile, it would mean that they would have to have a soul.
In the case of New York City vs. Exxon Mobil, groundwater wells in Jamaica, Queens that were part of a backup system for drinking water in emergencies or droughts were found to be contaminated with M.T.B.E. and therefore undrinkable. Predictions have been made that in order to rectify the contaminated drinking water, a $250 million treatment facility would have to be built to make the water drinkable once more.
In the opening statement held last Tuesday, the city of New York argued that, “Exxon, which started using M.T.B.E. in the 1980’s, ignored evidence from its own scientists of a strong risk of groundwater contamination should the compound be added to gasoline.” On the other side of the argument, Exxon Mobile claims, “oil companies initially used more M.T.B.E. than ethanol as a substitute for lead because the supply of ethanol was limited and car manufacturers had serious concerns that it would diminish vehicles’ performance.” The company denies any liability and additionally claims that the groundwater wells are contaminated by other industry in the area. However unlikely this claim may be, Exxon is sticking to it.
The trial will be a long, drawn out process, but so far it looks like the City of New York is winning against the greed of Exxon Mobil.
August 6, 2009
City Says Exxon Is Liable for Tainted Well Water in Queens
Lawyers for New York City are trying to convince a jury in a federal trial that Exxon Mobil knew that an additive that it used in gasoline would contaminate groundwater.
The trial, which began on Tuesday before Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of United States District Court in Manhattan, is one of hundreds of cases that have been presented around the country against oil companies over the additive, M.T.B.E., a chemical compound that replaced lead in gasoline as an octane enhancer. Such enhancers boost engine performance and help prevent knocking.
New York City’s case against Exxon Mobil arose from the contamination of groundwater wells in Jamaica, Queens, that are designated as part of a backup system for drinking water in emergencies or droughts. In 2003, the city sued 23 oil companies over the contamination; it has reached settlements with 22, for a combined $15 million.
The Environmental Protection Agency says that even low levels of M.T.B.E. can make water undrinkable because of its taste and odor. While researchers have limited data on its health effects on humans, it is considered a carcinogen in high doses in animals.
Like ethanol, M.T.B.E., methyl tert-butyl ether, helps gasoline burn more cleanly and reduces tailpipe emissions. But it is also highly soluble in water, and fuel leaks from storage tanks and other sources have contaminated groundwater that is often a source of drinking water.
Twenty-five states, including New York, have restricted or banned M.T.B.E.
In opening statements on Tuesday, the lawyer for the city, Victor Sher, argued that Exxon, which started using M.B.T.E. in the 1980s, ignored evidence from its own scientists of a strong risk of groundwater contamination should the compound be added to gasoline. Mr. Sher argued that the company could have used ethanol, a more expensive octane enhancer that does not pose the same hazard.
But Exxon Mobil’s lawyer, Peter John Sacripanti, told jurors that oil companies initially used more M.T.B.E. than ethanol as a substitute for lead because the supply of ethanol was limited and car manufacturers had serious concerns that it would diminish vehicles’ performance. The company denies any liability.
Mr. Sher said 39 of 68 wells in Queens show M.T.B.E. contamination. But the focus of the trial is five contaminated wells that can yield about 10 million gallons a day to supplement water sources in cases of failure in the upstate reservoir system that provides New York City’s drinking water. City officials say a $250 million treatment facility would have to be built to make the water in the wells drinkable.
The company says that the wells are contaminated by other industry in the area. It adds that the city does not intend to build the treatment plant and has other projects under way to provide other backup sources of water.
The jury must rule on several elements of the case, including whether the city intends to build the treatment plant, the extent of M.T.B.E. contamination and the size of any punitive damages.