Ban on Gas Additive Creates Cost-Benefit Choice

KNOXVILLE — The Environmental Protection Agency’s ban on a gasoline additive is an effort to balance between environmental effects and costs, two University of Tennessee scientist said Friday.

The EPA announced a ban on MTBE, an additive that boosts the octane of gasoline, because it can contaminate ground water.

“MTBE was introduced to make gas burn cleaner with less pollution,” said Dr. Ziad Keilany, an oil industry analyst at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. “But it created two problems. It’s not good for the environment and it’s expensive.

“At a time when gas prices are high, people are questioning the logic of an additive.”

EPA’s ban on MTBE is expected to boost the use of ethanol, an additive derived from corn.

“This is a problem primarily for oil companies,” said Dr. Jeff Hodgson, a UT mechanical engineer. “Petroleum engineers have to find something else to raise the octane and reduce the cold-start emissions of the engines.”

Keilany said oil refineries could improve the refining process to produce a higher-octane gasoline but that would add to the cost.

“There is always a tradeoff between cost and the environment,” Keilany said. “The problem in economics is to find the particular point where we can compromise between cost and clean air.”