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Shell, Sunoco Settle Groundwater Suit With New Hampshire

New Hampshire reached a $35 million settlement with Shell Oil Co. and Sunoco Inc. of a lawsuit over claims that the gasoline refiners and manufacturers used chemicals that contaminated groundwater.

The state sued a number of oil companies in 2003, charging that they knew the gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) would pollute water supplies, state Attorney General Michael Delaney said today in a statement.

“My office will continue to hold oil companies responsible for their role in causing groundwater contamination in this state,” Delaney said. “This is a substantial recovery that will be used to clean up contaminated groundwaters throughout New Hampshire.”

A trial against the other remaining defendants, which include Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips, Irving Oil Ltd., Citgo Petroleum Corp. and Vitol SA, is set to begin in Concord, New Hampshire, in January. It may last three to four months.

The state has settled the suit with other oil companies, including Hess Corp. and Chevron Corp., Assistant Attorney General Mary Maloney said in an interview.

Maloney said the state may seek “several hundreds of millions” of dollars in damages in the jury trial. MTBE continues to be a pollutant in New Hampshire, especially since many residents use well water, she said.

“MTBE, because of its ubiquity and solubility, gets into the bedrock,” she said.

Press-relations representatives for Houston-based Shell and Philadelphia-based Sunoco didn’t immediately reply to messages seeking comment on the settlement. Shell’s U.S. unit is part of Netherlands-based Royal Dutch Shell Plc, and Sunoco is a unit of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners LP.

The case is State of New Hampshire v. Hess Corp., 03-C-0550, State of New Hampshire Superior Court (Merrimack).

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