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ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) has been found guilty of contaminating groundwater supplies in the state of New Hampshire, and was ordered by the jury to pay a total of $236 to the state in order to carry out clean-up work.
ExxonMobil added the chemical MTBE to its gasoline in order to reduce smog, and help the state meet air quality levels set by the EPA. Unfortunately the chemical is toxic and has managed to contaminate a large number of wells.
The MTBE was initially legal, and used to reduce the air pollution when gasoline was burned, but in 2007 it was banned in the state of New Hampshire after it was classified as a possible human carcinogen by the EPA.
After nearly three months sat listening to lawyers from both sides make their cases in the court room, the jury stunned everyone by making their decision in less than two hours; verdict, damages, and all.
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Dawn Booker, one of the jurors, explained that they had all “been sitting there for three months listening. It was just cut and dry. We all pretty much had our own decision before we went in there.”
The jury awarded the entire $236 million that the state was looking for, but that in itself has set records as the largest set of damages awarded over an MTBE contamination case. In 2009 ExxonMobil were ordered to pay the New York City Water District $105 million for MTBE contamination in that state.
That decision is on appeal, and it is likely that this one will also be appealed, especially considering the words of Exxon’s lawyer David Lender, who said after the trial: “We appreciate the jurors' service during this long trial, but erroneous rulings prevented them from hearing all the evidence and deprived us of a fair trial. We have strong legal and factual arguments to make on appeal.”
Attorney General Michael Delaney has admitted that he doesn’t expect Exxon to pay the money anytime soon.
By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com
Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com