Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Nick Guerin makes this connection here…

This article entitled, “Oil Giants Heading to Trial in Water Pollution Lawsuit” was reported by the New York Times in December of 2012. This article relates to the hydrology domain of WRE and specifically the issue of ground water pollution. The state of New Hampshire is suing the oil companies Exxon Mobil and Citgo for products liability damages. The state is claiming that the chemical M.T.B.E., or methyl tertiary butyl ether, has contaminated a large portion of their groundwater. M.T.B.E. is a gasoline additive that has been in use since the 1970s and is used to increase octane and reduce smog causing emissions. Unfortunately it is also a carcinogen and renders water unpalatable once it has been contaminated. This suit was filled back in 2003 but due to the unprecedented complexities that this case is presenting it has taken nearly ten years to finally reach a jury, which is a serious concern for the state when nearly 60 percent of its inhabitants rely on private wells for drinking water and the likelihood of contamination has done nothing but increase. Based on my knowledge of WRE, this article is an accurate and important WRE issue. According to the EPA, over 200,000 barrels of M.T.B.E. are produced per day in the US alone (Gasoline, 2012). This is startling news when you consider that M.T.B.E. is highly soluble in water, has low soil absorption rates and poor natural biodegradation, resulting in quick buildup and easy transportation of this pollutant throughout groundwater systems (MTBE, 2002). Unfortunately this article did not address the amount of M.T.B.E. thought to be contaminating New Hampshire’s water, nor the extent of the area affected.


Figure 1 – Concentrations of MTBE in public and private wells

WRE is a very broad field, with focuses in a wide array of different contextual areas. This article in particular focuses more on the economic aspects of WRE, as it pertains to the costs associated with the testing and possible cleanup of New Hampshire’s groundwater supply as a result of the M.T.B.E pollution. The economic aspect of WRE usually focuses on the economic costs of undertaking large scale hydrologic or hydraulic projects. And this is no small task that New Hampshire is undertaking, they are currently fighting for $700 million in damages to fund the testing and possible remediation of groundwater contaminated with M.T.B.E., according to Lynne Tuohy of the Claims Journal (Tuohy, 2012).



“Gasoline.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, 27 Dec. 2012. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.

“MTBE: A Four Letter Word in Water Pollution.” Environmental Protection. N.p., 01 Oct. 2002. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.

Tuohy, Lynne. “Long-Awaited New Hampshire MTBE Pollution Liability Trial to Start.”Claims Journal News. N.p., 31 Dec. 2012. Web. 19 Feb. 2013.