Crescenta Valley Water District win settlements

The Crescenta Valley Water District has bagged two more multimillion-dollar settlements from oil companies that officials claim leaked a contaminant into the local groundwater supply.

So far, the district has penned three settlement agreements totaling $12.5 million, according to U.S. District Court records.

The latest is a $4-million agreement with ConocoPhillips, which is set to be reviewed by a federal judge next month. In January, U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton Tucker approved another $4-million settlement, this time with BP, court documents show.

Exxon Mobil settled with the district last year for $4.5 million.

The legal action was initiated after 2004, when district officials first detected the gasoline additive Methyl Tertiary-butyl Ether, or MTBE, in the ground near several gas stations along Foothill Boulevard, as well as in well water. Officials shut down two wells after MTBE levels were more than 10 times the state limit of 5 parts per billion.

All three companies that have settled deny wrongdoing and in court documents. ConocoPhillips points to the “onerous costs and great uncertainty associated with completing a lengthy jury trial” as reasons for settling.

The trial, which has been delayed several times, is expected to take place in September, but the water utility’s attorney, Tom Bunn, said officials hope to settle with the other oil companies included in the 2007 lawsuit — Shell, Lyondell Chemical, Chevron and Valero — before then.

“We are trying to settle with all of them,” Bunn said, adding that the dollar amount will differ depending on the damage each company allegedly caused.

Crescenta Valley water officials originally sued for about $50 million in damages. An engineering expert hired by the district estimated that installing and operating filters to remove the gasoline additive would cost about $47 million.

As of January 2012, the district had paid about $1.8 million for imported water to replace contaminated supplies and has spent $3.5 million related to the contamination, according to court records.

Water infused with MTBE has a foul taste and odor. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the health hazards of low doses of MTBE are unknown, but in high quantities, it is a potential human carcinogen.

It is no longer used to oxygenate gasoline.

Currently, all Crescenta Valley wells fall below the state cap, according to court documents, but water district officials believe MTBE will continue to pose a problem as a plume moves below the ground.

The oil companies have long rejected that claim.


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