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USA: City Sues Big Oil for Millions Over Polluted Drinking Water

by Timna TannersReuters
June 21st, 2000

SANTA MONICA -- The California beach city of Santa Monica is suing 18 oil companies for damages that could exceed $200 million, claiming that the firms polluted drinking water wells with the possibly cancer-causing gasoline additive MTBE.

The companies being sued include Royal Dutch/Shell Oil, Texaco, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Tosco, Ultramar Diamond Shamrock and Unocal.

Santa Monica city officials said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had estimated costs could total $200 million to clean up the contamination from MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether.

MTBE, a key component of California's clean-burning gasoline, fell out of favour recently when a study found it contaminated ground water supplies and could cause cancer.

California Gov. Gray Davis has ordered its ban as of 2002. Santa Monica Mayor Ken Genser said that for decades the city had provided drinking water from its own wells.

"Now thanks to the oil industry, the city no longer can use most of its drinking water," he said in a statement. "The time has come for the oil industry to pay for the clean-up of its pollution and for the city to regain use of its most precious natural resource-drinking water."

The city, which borders Los Angeles, said oil companies walked away from negotiating a clean-up plan earlier this year, after MTBE was found to have seeped into city drinking wells.

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