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Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

A US-based company, Longhorn Partners Pipeline, have agreed not to ship petrol containing the additive Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE) -- a harmful blending stock used as a mix with unleaded petrol to increase oxygen content in petrol for cleaner burning ( Down To Earth , Vol 9, No 8). It is the first US pipeline company to ban the chemical, which is listed by the US Environmental Protection Agency as a possible human carcinogen.

The company is the future operator of a planned 1,130 km pipeline that will bring petrol and distillate fuels from the US Gulf to customers in the southwest region of the country. The pipeline, which will be called Longhorn, should begin shipping fuel from the refineries to El Paso and Odessa, Texas, by early next summer, a company spokesperson said.

From a tank farm in El Paso, Longhorn will be connected to other pipelines to transfer petroleum product to Arizona, taking pressure off California exports to Arizona. "People who live along the pipeline's route have expressed their concern to us," said O B Harris, Longhorn vice president. He said the Lower Colorado River Authority was very much against the chemical. "Market forces also indicate that the demand for MTBE is reducing," he added.

Almost one-third of the nation's petrol contains MTBE. But the additive degrades much more slowly than other elements of gasoline and can make water smell like turpentine when tiny amounts reach drinking water supplies. The chairperson of the Senate environment and public works committee, Bob Smith, is reported to have said: "MTBE has done more damage to our drinking water than we really would care to know. This is a serious environmental problem that must be addressed." Last year, California's governor Gray Davis announced that MTBE would be completely banned from the state by 2002.

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