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MTBE FAQ's

MTBE - Methyl tertiary butyl ether


 What is MTBE?

MTBE is a volatile organic chemical (VOC) and a fuel oxygenate added to gasoline. Since the late 1970's, MTBE has been used as an octane enhancer in gasoline. In the mid 1990's, to meet the oxygenate requirement provisions of the Clean Air Act, it became the oxygenate of choice for the oil industry primarily because of its low cost and positive blending characteristics. Due to its small molecular size and solubility in water, MTBE moves rapidly into groundwater, much faster than the other constituents of gasoline. Public and private wells have been contaminated in this manner.

What impact has MTBE has in South Lake Tahoe?

Since 1997, MTBE has been responsible for closure of 13 of the District's drinking water wells and prompted a landmark lawsuit (South Tahoe Public Utility District vs. ARCO et al) settled in August 2002, with settlements of over $69 million paid to the District by defendants. These funds have been set aside in a separate fund and can only be utilized by the District to resolve MTBE-related problems, at our wells, as they occur over the next 10-20 years.

Where can if find more information about MTBE?

The following websites contain up-to-date information of MTBE:

  • The United States EPA presents a definition of MTBE and describes the drinking water advisory it has issued
  • The California Energy Commission study and additional information on MTBE
  • The UC Davis MTBE website sponsored, in part, by SB 521 to inform the public about MTBE and current MTBE research at UC Davis