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Like Oil and Water

As Congress Considers Legal Immunity for Oil Companies More Communities Go To Court Over MTBE Pollution

Oil Companies Seeking Immunity

April 5, 2005

Like Oil and Water: Oil Companies Seeking Immunity

The pollution liability waiver will primarily benefit a handful of petrochemical companies in just one state — Texas. For these companies in DeLay and Barton's home state, the waiver represents a last opportunity to strike a financial gusher from a refinery byproduct classified as toxic waste under federal Superfund law. In 2003, the U.S. had three billion gallons of annual MTBE production capacity, and seven companies, all with facilities in Texas, accounted for approximately 80 percent of the total. [Freedonia 2004] In 2002, the U.S. market for MTBE was estimated to be $4.7 billion, although it has declined significantly in the wake of the state bans. [Franz 2002]

According to federal records, in the 2004 campaign cycle DeLay received $136,425 in contributions from the oil and gas industry. Barton received $224,398. Two of the current or former MTBE makers who would be protected from lawsuits by the DeLay-Barton bill were among the top contributors to the two congressmen. Lyondell Chemical gave $16,000 to DeLay and $13,250 to Barton. Valero Energy gave $15,000 to Barton and $10,000 to DeLay. [Center for Responsive Politics 2005]

Four of the seven largest MTBE producers are located in the 29th Congressional District, in the petroleum refinery belt east of Houston. The district is represented by Democrat Gene Green, who voted for the energy bill and MTBE liability waiver. There have been two detections of MTBE in water systems in Green's district.

The remaining facilities are in Corpus Christi, Texas, represented by Democrat Solomon Ortiz; Baton Rouge, La., represented by Republican Richard Baker; and Port Neches, Texas, represented by Republican Ted Poe. Both Ortiz and Baker voted for the energy bill and liability waiver; Poe was first elected to Congress in 2004. Other than Green, none of the Texans has a water system in his district where MTBE has been detected, although statewide 46 water systems, serving more than 1 million people, have reported contamination. No detections of MTBE have been reported in water systems in Louisiana.

U.S. MTBE producers 2004


   • Lyondell Chemical, Channelview, TX
   • Huntsman, Port Neches, TX
   • Valero Energy, Corpus Christi, TX
   • ExxonMobil, Baton Rouge, LA
   • Equistar, Channelview, TX
   • Belvieu Environmental, Mont Belvieu, TX
   • Shell Deer Park, Deer Park, TX


SOURCE: Gasoline & Other Fuel Additives to 2008. The Freedonia Group, Nov. 1, 2004.

Although only six major MTBE manufacturers remain in the U.S., the list of companies who would be let off the hook by the DeLay-Barton bill is much longer. It includes virtually every gasoline refiner and marketer in the country, including Arco, ConocoPhillips, ShellTexaco, Gulf and Unocal. Because the oil industry has been through a dizzying array of mergers and buyouts in the last decade, many of the companies are being sued under multiple names.

Refinery defendants

• Amerada Hess Corp. • Motiva Enterprises LLC
• Ashland, Inc. • Texaco Refining & Marketing Inc.
• Atofina Petrochemicals, Inc. • TMR CO.
• BP Amoco Chemical Co. • ExxonMobil Corp.
• BP Products North America • Mobil Corp.
• Atlantic Richfield Co. • Crown Central Petroleum Corp.
• BP West Coast Products LLC • Flint Hills Resources LP (Koch Petroleum Group)
• Coastal Eagle Point Oil Co. • Giant Yorktown Inc.
• Coastal Oil New England • Gulf Oil LP
• El Paso Merchant Energy-Petroleum Co. • Placid Refining Co. LLC
• ConocoPhillips Co. • Premcor Refining Group, Inc.
• Tosco Corp. • Valero Energy Corp.
• Marathon Ashland Petroleum LLC • TPI Petroleum Inc.
• Marathon Oil Co. • Tesoro Petroleum Corp.
• Equilon Enerprises LLC • Ultramar Energy Inc.
• Shell Oil Co. • Unocal Corp.

* Partial list. Many of the companies listed have several divisions which are also named in the lawsuits.