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Project ID: 2002ME1B

Title: MtBE in Groundwater: The Maine Experiment

Project Type: Research

Focus Categories: Water Quality, Toxic Substances, Law, Institutions, and Policy

Keywords: Geochemistry, Groundwater Quality, Non-Point Source Pollution, Organic Compounds, Policy Analysis, Risk Analysis, Socioeconomic Issues, Toxic Substances, Water Quality Monitoring

Start Date: 03/01/2002

End Date: 02/28/2004

Federal Funds: $36,257

Non-Federal Matching Funds: $72,472

Congressional District: 2

Principal Investigators:
John M. Peckenham
University of Maine

Kevin Boyle
University of Maine

Jonathan Rubin
University of Maine


The energy politics of New England have provided a natural experiment on MtBE contamination and remediation of groundwater. MtBE is the gasoline oxygenate that has contaminated groundwater nationwide. EPA has proposed a ban, but federal action will likely take years. In 1998, a statewide survey in Maine determined that 16% of ground water supplies contained MtBE. Public outcry caused Maine to ban the use of reformulated gasoline in March 1999. This event set up a unique opportunity to study how a change from 12% to 2% MtBE in fuel affects the quality of water resources and the costs of spill remediation. Most importantly, we can determine how fast MtBE natural remediation occurs and thus provide information to allow other regions to react to their specific situation with the appropriate understanding of MtBE persistence and associated costs for clean up.

We will examine the spatial distribution and persistence of MtBE on the town and statewide scales. The town is Windham, Maine, a suburban town with well-documented MtBE contamination in groundwater on which this research team has focused its efforts to date. The statewide scale uses statistical sub-populations from areas with different MtBE use-histories and state records on remediation. The scaled experimental design will examine both site-specific behavior (rate of change in MtBE concentrations) and changes in spatial distributions.

The economics component of this project will evaluate the costs of using and remediating MtBE to safe levels. We will evaluate the economic benefit in reduced remediation costs by switching to low, or no-MtBE fuels. Although bans on MtBE have been contemplated elsewhere, only Maine has implemented reductions. Therefore, Maine is the only region where the geohydrology and economics of this change can be tested, and then forecast for the rest of the nation.

This project is a collaborative effort of:
(1) University of Maine;
(2) U.S. Geological Survey at the town study location (USGS-WRD-Augusta);
(3) Maine Department of Environmental Protection to evaluate MtBE and other oxygenates at groundwater remediation sites and to analyze samples for other fuel oxygenates; and

The slowness of the regulatory process and the documented persistence of MtBE in groundwater make this research both timely and very much needed for groundwater planning in many parts of the nation.

Progress/Completion Report PDF

U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Maintained by: John Schefter
Last Updated: Thursday June 24, 2004 3:18 PM
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