Danish petrol firms rush to phase-out MTBE

Phase-out date brought forward to May in response to groundwater contamination fears

The Danish oil industry today announced a far earlier deadline than expected for phasing out the fuel additive methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE). The initiative is thought to be the first of its kind in the world. Nine companies agreed to the move because of widespread public concern over threats posed by the compound to groundwaters, Flemming Ludvigsen of the Danish Petroleum Industry Association (OFR) told Berlingske Tidende newspaper.

"Whether or not the problem is real, we have to respond to a perceived risk", he said. "And since the government has signalled its intention of tackling the problem, we might as well start the ball rolling ourselves."

Initially, OFR had agreed to phase out MTBE in Denmark within four to five years (ENDS Daily 17 August). The deadline is now next May. The substance is to be removed entirely from 92 and 95-octane petrol, and supplies of 98-octane - essential for some older car models, about three per cent of the total - are to be cut by 90%.

Mr Ludvigsen added that he hoped the initiative would mean that the government would not proceed with plans to impose a surcharge on petrol containing MTBE, as owners of these older models would be sufficiently penalised by having to drive longer distances to one of the 200 filling stations stocking 98-octane fuel. Jesper Hermannsen of Denmark's environmental protection agency said the agency was making no promises, but the notion of abandoning the tax was "quite conceivable".

Denmark has indicated that it will push for an EU-wide ban on MTBE. But Mr Ludvigsen claims that EU fuel quality controls due to take effect in 2005 will inhibit this and interfere with the Danish phase-out. EU rules on hydrocarbon content in petrol would make it impossible to produce without MTBE, he said. "In that case, our initiative would only run until 2005."

Follow Up:
OFR, +45 33 11 30 77; Danish EPA, tel: +45 32 66 01 00.

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