NH Sues Oil Companies Over Contaminated Groundwater

In a lawsuit that is being considered one of the most arduous the state has brought to date, New Hampshire is suing ExxonMobil and Citgo for $700 million for groundwater contamination.

According to The Washington Post, the state is suing the two oil companies to pay damages and force them to clean up pollution caused by a gasoline additive called methyl tertiary butly ether (more commonly known as MTBE), which is now illegal in NH and many other areas around the country.

The chemical additive MTBE was used is gasoline products more commonly in the 1970s and up until the 1990s to reduce emissions that create smog. Although the initial intent of using the additive was to help the environment, it ended up contaminating public drinking water when leaked into groundwater.

The MTBE lawsuit was originally filed in 2003, but is only now set for trial this week. Reports are saying that the trial may last up to four months. A trial of this nature is likely to be very involved, with a long list of witnesses and large amounts of evidence being showcased.  

The two oil companies are claiming that they have already taken measures to clean up their sites, insisting that other third parties are to blame for contamination in other areas, according to the Associated Press. We will not know the outcome for some time, but based on the many previous lawsuits filed against oil companies over MBTE pollution, the plaintiffs have a good chance. 

Other Notable MTBE Lawsuits

Since 1998, many cases have been filed on behalf of hundreds of thousands of individuals, water suppliers and government entities against oil companies and MTBE-related sources in several different states. The following are a few of those that made headlines: 

Millett v. Atlantic Richfield Co

The first product liability suit was filed against several companies responsible for MTBE in 1998 by a group of homeowners in Maine, whose well water was tainted by the chemical. Health concerns were involved, plus accusations of conspiracy on the part of the companies and lack of action to warn citizens of the danger of their product. The lawsuit was settled for $35,000 in damages. Defendants included Arco Chemical Co., Atlantic Richfield Co., Lyondell Chemical Co., the American Petroleum Institute and the Oxygenated Fuels Association.

Maynard v. Amerada Hess Corp.

Filed in 1999 by five North Carolina residents, this case was brought as a class action representing thousands of people all over the state against over a dozen oil companies. The suit alleged that the companies were responsible for MTBE water supply contamination and sought damages for gross negligence, product liability, failure to warn, trespass, nuisance, conspiracy and fraud. This case was dismissed because of some discrepancies in plaintiff allegations. 

Berisha v. Amerada Hess Corp

The following year in 2001, another class action lawsuit was filed in a New York State Supreme Court (but later heard in a district court). Filed on behalf of all residents of the state that consumer drinking water, the plaintiffs accused Hess Corp. of civil conspiracy, fraud, negligence, public nuisance, strict liability, failure to warn, and misrepresentations. Plaintiffs sought damages for buying replacement water, to replace and remedy lost property and other damages, as well as punitive damages. Reports indicate the plaintiffs received a satisfactory but confidential settlement. 

Public Water Providers v. Several Major Oil Companies 

In a recent lawsuit over water contamination, 153 public water suppliers across 17 states sued several major US oil companies. The suit was concluded in a $422 million settlement and an agreement that the defendants will help pay for well recovery for the next 30 years. 

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