Attorney General Neronha announces 6 million-dollar settlement with Exxon Mobil over MTBE contamination

 Attorney General Neronha announces 6 million-dollar settlement with Exxon Mobil over MTBE contamination
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Rhode Island’s combined recoveries from settlements with major oil and gas companies from state’s MTBE litigation exceed $26 million

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Attorney General Peter F. Neronha announced today that his Office has resolved Rhode Island’s lawsuit against Exxon Mobil, the final gasoline refiner named in the State’s 2016 case, for its role in polluting Rhode Island’s soil and groundwater with the gasoline additive methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE).

Rhode Island has previously entered into settlement agreements with other major refiners, for their role in MTBE contamination, including: Shell, Sunoco, CITGO, Hess, Total Petrochemicals & Refining USA, Inc. (TPRI), Marathon, Conoco, Chevron, Irving, Valero, Coastal Corporation, and British Petroleum (BP). The total amount recovered by Rhode Island from the MTBE litigation now totals more than $26 million.

“We have now settled with every major gas refiner named in our lawsuit and returned more than $26 million in damages to the people of Rhode Island,” said Attorney General Neronha. “These oil and gas companies knew about the dangers of MTBE well before the public did, and for that, we made them pay, dedicating the recovered funds to remediating contaminated waters of the state. This Office remains staunchly committed to ensuring the protection of Rhode Islanders and our natural resources, and will continue to hold responsible any entity, big or small, that threatens our community and our environment.”

“MTBE has had direct impacts on the environment in Rhode Island and complicated the response to leaking tanks and other releases across the state,” said Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) Director Terry Gray. “The Attorney General’s work on this case, consistent with several other cases across the country, holds fuel companies accountable for these impacts. DEM is eager to put the funds from this action to work cleaning up our environment and have already begun remediation and site assessment work at some contaminated sites. We have specifically identified sites owned and operated by small businesses that do not have the resources to address contamination in a timely and effective manner. We look forward to restoring these sites to a healthier environmental state.”

As a part of the settlement, Exxon Mobil will pay the State $6 million, which will be dedicated to emergency response and ongoing MTBE contamination remediation efforts by RIDEM. The Attorney General is responsible for overseeing the distribution and use of the settlement funds to ensure consistency with the terms in the consent judgment.

These settlements have already funded several major contamination remediation projects in Rhode Island, with many more in the pipeline. For example, RIDEM recently performed limited remediation at the Community Baptist Church in Burrillville, using a compound to supply oxygen for enhanced aerobic biodegradation, feeding bacteria that eat the contamination. Work has also begun at Edwards Garage in Hopkinton, where RIDEM completed detailed site assessment work with another phase to follow soon. Additionally, future locations for remediation efforts have been identified in Foster, Cranston, Tiverton and other Rhode Island municipalities.

For decades, MTBE has leaked from underground storage tanks such as those typically found at gas stations and contaminated groundwater and soils throughout the United States, including Rhode Island. Research shows that MTBE’s presence in drinking water, even at extremely low levels, could pose serious health risks. MTBE can give water a strong turpentine-like taste and odor, its removal is costly, and it is considered a probable human carcinogen. Rhode Island banned the use of MTBE in 2007, but MTBE continues to contaminate portions of groundwater throughout the state.

The State’s lawsuit alleged that these gas companies promoted, marketed, distributed, supplied, and sold gasoline and other petroleum products containing MTBE, when they knew, or reasonably should have known, that MTBE would be released into the environment and cause contamination in Rhode Island’s water supply – threatening public health and welfare.

Assistant Attorney General Alison B. Hoffman, Chief of the Environment and Energy Unit, handled this matter on behalf of the Office of Attorney General.

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