Ethanol suit filed on behalf of boat owners in Calif.

Published online: May 09, 2008 News Lois Caliri, Soundings Trade Only
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The suit seeks to represent a class comprising all owners of boats with fiberglass fuel tanks who filled their tanks with ethanol-blended gasoline from a California retailer. The suit also seeks to represent all persons in California who own boats with fiberglass fuel tanks that had to be replaced because of damage caused by ethanol-blended gasoline bought from a California retailer. 

The lawsuit, filed by Kabateck Brown Kellner, LLP, names major oil companies, including Chevron and Exxon Mobil Corp., as defendants. 

Chevron said it has not yet been served with the lawsuit. 

"As such, we are not in a position to comment," said Lloyd Avram, Chevron media relations team leader. 

Exxon did not return phone calls for comment. 

According to court documents, Lawrence Turner, the plaintiff, bought ethanol-blended gasoline for his boat, which had a fiberglass fuel tank. Turner then discovered the ethanol in the gasoline began dissolving the boat's fiberglass fuel tank and caused damage to the boat's engine. The court documents said Turner was "forced to spend approximately $20,000 to fix the problems caused by the defendants' ethanol blended gasoline." 

"The price of gas is bad enough, but selling gasoline that dissolves gas tanks is a new low even for the oil companies," said Brian Kabateck, managing partner of Kabateck Brown Kellner and the lead attorney on the case, in a statement. "The oil companies know this fuel is corrosive, but they're keeping consumers in the dark to pump up their profits. The cost to the consumer is thousands of dollars in repairs." 

Bob Adriance, technical services director for BoatU.S., told Soundings Trade Only, "I think the attorneys do have a case. I think the case against the oil companies regarding fiberglass tanks has plenty of merit." 

He added, "It's well known in the oil industry that some fiberglass tanks can be damaged by ethanol." 

Ethanol attracts water. When enough water is absorbed by the ethanol-blended gasoline, the ethanol and water solution separates from the gasoline, with the gasoline floating to the top. This results in a layer of water with a high concentration of ethanol at the bottom of the fuel tank. 

There are many underground storage tanks that are made of fiberglass, but these were developed specifically to withstand ethanol, Adriance said. The vast majority of fiberglass tanks on boats were not designed to withstand ethanol. 

"Should the oil companies have know that?" Adriance asked. "I think the attorneys can make the case that they should have."

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