ChevronTexaco became the latest refiner to announce it would make the switch from MTBE to ethanol by May, well ahead of the 2004 deadline set by the state.
"Clearly the voice of the consumer is being heard in California," said Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, said Thursday. "Consumers are demanding MTBE-free gasoline to protect water resources, and oil companies are responding."
ChevronTexaco, which controls around 18 percent of California's retail gasoline market, said Wednesday that it was prepared to complete phasing in ethanol and phasing out MTBE at its two refineries in the Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay areas between January and May.
"By joining ConocoPhillips, BP, Shell and ExxonMobil, Chevron's announcement means that more than 80 percent of California gasoline will soon be blended with ethanol," the RFA said in its statement.
California ordered the elimination of MTBE from the state's gasoline supply two years ago after concerns arose about the potential health effects caused by the chemical if it leaked from underground gas station storage tanks into the groundwater.
The original deadline for the phaseout was the end of last year, however Gov. Gray Davis last March extended it for another year to give refiners more time to make necessary conversions and for the ethanol industry to make sure that enough ethanol would be available to avoid shortages and any accompanying price spikes at the pump.
"The ethanol industry has added more than 1 billion gallons of production capacity over the last three years in order to supply California a clean, renewable substitute for MTBE," Dineen crowed. "We are proud to have made this transition possible for California."
Dave Reeves, president of the Chevron U.S.A. marketing unit, said the company began producing gasoline with no oxygenates at all at its Richmond plant in Northern California in 1997 and had since addressed the technical issues surrounding the introduction of ethanol.
Oxygenates are used to make gasoline burn more efficiently and therefore with fewer emissions. Federal law requires that oxygenates be used in reformulated gasoline sold in many urban areas nationwide as a means of reducing air pollution. Ethanol and MTBE are the two primary oxygenates in use.
"We have made good progress with meeting the many difficult logistical, technical and permitting challenges that must be overcome to remove MTBE statewide," said Reeves. "We recently produced our 4 billionth gallon of cleaner-burning gasoline without adding MTBE or any other oxygenate. We're taking this important step in Southern California now and will complete the transition to gasoline without MTBE in Northern California later this year."
The only major refiner that has not announced it would switch to ethanol is Valero, which operates a pair of refineries in the Bay area and Los Angeles County.