Danish oil refiners pledge MTBE phase-out

Industry responds to government threat of taxation; Shell to promote EU-wide action

Danish oil refiners are to voluntarily end use of the petrol additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), it has emerged. The development follows a recent government proposal to tax the substance, plus heightened public concern following a television documentary detailing instances of MTBE contamination of Danish groundwater. Meanwhile, oil major Shell has said it will push for not just a Danish but an EU-wide phase-out of MTBE.

A Shell spokesperson told ENDS Daily today that Denmark's petroleum industry association had agreed to phase out MTBE in Denmark within four to five years. In the meantime, she said, it would "request the assistance of Danish politicians for an alternative" to the substance in motor fuels.

MTBE has become a big political issue in Denmark because it makes drinking water taste foul at very low concentrations, can pollute groundwater, and because Denmark depends more than any other European country on this source for drinking water. The government has set up an MTBE action programme (ENDS Daily 8 February), the latest step of which is a possible DKr5 (euros 0.67) per litre levy to discourage its use.

Danish environmental scientist Erik Arvin, who first highlighted Danish MTBE contamination ten years ago, described the oil industry's move as "dramatic". It also had much wider implications, he said. "If Denmark can remove it, why not the rest of Europe?"

In fact the issue has hardly raised its head in other EU countries. The USA, which uses much more MTBE to control air pollution from cars, recently announced plans for a phase-out, prompting European Commission officials to say that they had no similar plans for the EU (ENDS Daily 22 March).

However, pressure for the EU to think again looks set to grow after Shell said it would push for a European phase-out. "We will advocate that MTBE is phased out throughout Europe," Shell Denmark managing director Leif Kierkegaard told Jyllandsposten newspaper at the weekend.

Follow Up:
Shell, tel: +44 20 79 34 12 34.

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