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N.H., Citgo agree to drop Citgo from MTBE suit

The state of New Hampshire is asking that one of two petroleum giants it sued over the gasoline additive MTBE be removed from the lawsuit.

The state’s lawsuit against ExxonMobil and Citgo went to trial Monday. But an attorney for the state said yesterday that Citgo and the state filed a joint motion to remove Citgo from the case, and that Citgo will no longer be a part of the trial. Attorney Jessica Grant said she couldn’t comment on whether that means a settlement has been reached.

The state sued the companies in 2003 alleging that gasoline containing MTBE – methyl tertiary butyl ether – was a defective product and that the oil companies had a duty to warn state officials about its special properties and ability to contaminate groundwater in greater levels than traditional gasoline. It estimates that more than 40,000 wells are contaminated and was seeking more than $700 million from both companies to monitor drinking water wells and clean up high-risk sites where MTBE contaminated groundwater.

Lawyers for the oil companies did not return calls yesterday. In opening statements earlier, they said the product wasn’t defective – it did what it was supposed to do by reducing lead content in gas and making it burn cleaner – and that the state is inflating its estimates of how many wells were contaminated. Oil companies say the state is looking for a scapegoat; The state says it wants to hold companies responsible for their product.

New Hampshire filed its lawsuit in 2003, four years before it banned the use of MTBE. The case is the first brought by a state over MTBE contamination to reach trial.

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