New Hampshire Supreme Court rules against ExxonMobil in MTBE appeal

The New Hampshire Supreme Court denied ExxonMobil Corp.’s appeal of a lower court’s $236 million award to the state in a lawsuit charging groundwater contamination from the company’s use of methyl tertiary butyl ether as a gasoline oxygenate additive in the 1980s.

The state’s highest court also determined in its Oct. 2 decision that New Hampshire is entitled to tens of millions of dollars in prejudgment interest in addition to $90 million that it previously received in settlements from several other gasoline suppliers who settled with the state prior to trial, Atty. Gen. Joseph A. Foster (D) said.

The court also ruled that the verdict money would not be subject to a trust, he added.

ExxonMobil immediately disagreed with the decision. “MTBE contamination has been found in New Hampshire because someone spilled gasoline in New Hampshire, not because it was added to gasoline in a refinery in another state,” a spokesman said in a statement e-mailed to OGJ. “The state should have sued the parties responsible for spilling gasoline, not the refiners who were compelled by law to add oxygenates to gasoline.”

The spokesman said, “MTBE contamination in New Hampshire is rapidly decreasing, and the state’s current regulatory system, in which responsible parties pay for cleaning up gasoline spills, is effective in ensuring safe drinking water. We made strong legal and factual arguments on appeal, and will consider appealing to the US Supreme Court.”

Foster said the state government’s litigation spanned five attorneys general and four governors, included over 9 million pages of discovery, and culminated in a 3-month trial. The state, through the governor’s Office and the legislature, now will begin the process of determining how to use this money to best benefit New Hampshire’s citizens, he said.

“This is the most significant environmental victory in the state’s history,” Foster maintained. “This historic decision sends a clear message that New Hampshire will not permit polluters to endanger the health of its citizens and destroy its natural resources.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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