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Polluted-Water Case Against BP and Shell Revived


MANHATTAN (CN) — No longer protected by its deals with California prosecutors, BP and Shell must face another lawsuit alleging that its underground storage tanks continue to pollute Orange County’s groundwater with a toxic gasoline additive.

The British and Dutch oil giants were named among the dozens of fossil-fuel companies in hundreds of lawsuits over the chemical methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE).

Used to raise the oxygen level in gasoline, MTBE is banned by more than half of the states in the nation. The Environmental Protection Agency has flagged it as a possible human carcinogen at high doses.

On the East Coast, ExxonMobil was forced to pay $236 million two years ago for its use in New Hampshire, and $105 million for its use in New York in 2009.

More than 500 of the lawsuits over the chemical were consolidated before a federal judge in Manhattan, where Chevron, BP and other major companies agreed to pay a $423 million settlement in 2008. 

Although the Orange County District Attorney’s office settled two California cases involving MTBEs with BP and Shell in 2003 and 2005, the Orange County Water District filed separate claims that remained on the Southern District of New York’s docket.

In 2015, then-U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin found that the water district’s claims had been barred by the deal that the county’s district attorney had reached.

Overruling that decision, the Second Circuit was unanimous Monday that both entities had separate interests.

“Neither settlement reimbursed the district’s clean up costs or afforded it other compensation,” U.S. Circuit Judge Barrington Parker wrote for a three-judge panel.

“The injunctive relief in the [Orange County District Attorney] consent judgments has expired and the district alleges that MTBE plumes from BP and Shell stations continue to migrate toward the district’s water production wells,” the 16-page ruling continues. “These are interests unique to the district that were not adjudicated in the prior suits.”

BP and Shell have not returned requests for comment made after business hours.


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