Saturday, December 23, 2006

Debate on MTBE

It is painful to watch the government try to grapple with issues it seems to know little about. Recently, they took a decision to replace leaded gasoline with unleaded. The government says this is to protect the environment, but people are more worried about how this will affect the cost. Regular gas currently costs about 400 fils per liter, and unleaded is over 600 fils per liter.

But it is all worth it to protect the environment, right?

Al Ghad today has a report on the debate over the alternative, which is known as MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether), which is now being phased out in California, because it seems to be polluting water supplies in that state. The minister of energy is pushing for the change to MTBE, claiming that storage tanks at gas stations in the country are of international standards, and will not leak (unlike the tanks in California). The minister of environment is more cautious, saying that adopting MTBE will only take place if double layered storage facilities are provided. I found it interesting that the minister of water has little to say about the issue. What does the ministry of water have to do with clean water, anyway?

Leaded gasoline was phased out in the United States because it interfered with the action of catalytic converters, which are designed to oxidize carbon monoxide and to lower excess nitrous oxide emissions. Excess hydrocarbons are also burnt off in the catalytic converter. The purpose of this is to lower air pollution (smog), and not because lead in vehicle emissions was found to be a hazard. The Al Ghad report notes that lead contents in children’s blood in Jordan are within normal ranges. I have seen a number of such studies. Circumstantial evidence that children living near highways have lower IQ’s than others are sometimes cited as an indication that lead is a hazard, but this evidence is far from compelling.

Incidentally, the vast majority of automobiles in Jordan are not equipped with catalytic converters in the first place. A few years ago, a friend of mine imported a car, and the customs officials wanted to charge him extra for the device. Apparently, it is viewed as an accessory, like an air conditioner or a CD player. I am not sure if the customs department still views catalytic converters as luxury items.

A year ago, Al Ghad had a report on how diesel fuel in Jordan does not meet international requirements because of high sulfur contents. This leads to rapid aging of diesel engines and thus to the sight of older vehicles with black plumes of smoke billowing out of their tail pipe. If the government is so concerned about clean air, they would tackle this issue, rather than trying to use environmental concerns to bilk people.



At 11:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the Jordanian regime likes to pretend Jordan is a developed country with middle class average income. These policies are not driven by love for the environment, but by a colossal lack of sensitivity to the economic hardships most Jordanians have to endure because of declining standards of living and rising cost of living and removal of governmental subsidies and increase in taxes.

Alla yerhamak ya Hussain.

At 5:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did the experts in the government entertain the idea of adding ethanol to gasoline and does Da'erat Al Ifta'a need to be involved in such a decision as it may not entirely be Halal?

At 9:06 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Anon: I don't think it is image. I tend to beleive that it is either overzealous ignorance or that there is a lot of money involved.

Jameed: I think that the minister of finance might bt the issuer of this particular fatwa.

At 4:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jordan and Yemen are the only two countries in the Arab world that have not phased out leaded gasoline yet and the reason is the strength of the oil refinery and its mono-conscession on oil direvatives in Jordan. In addition, a strong lobby of car importers and car fuel stations owners is standing strong against unleaded gasoline.
The problem is within the energy sector itself. If another more advanced refinery will function it will increase competition and lower prices of unleaded fuel.
For anonymous, It is clear that you are an addict to the regime conspiracy theory and will not believe that there is a real environmental component of the change, but it is true and the damage caused by lead can be more devastating than the prices.
MTBE is not apple juice but as it is used in most European countries and most US states proves that it is more manageable and less harmful than lead. The argument of strengthening the storage tanks' impermeability is the best mitigation measure that can be used while using MTBE.
Ethanol is another option but our cars cannot work on ethanol yet.

At 5:16 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Batir: There is no evidence that I can find to show that leaded fuel is harming the environment directly. The policy of punishing car owners who want catalytic converors, on the other hand, is most probably a problem causing increased pollution with CO, NOx and unburnt hydrocarbons in urban environments. The move towards unleaded is only half a step, with requiring catalytic converters being the second half. Catalytic converters should not be considered luxury items as they are now.

I am sorry, but I feel that the step is not an honest one, and seems to be driven by trying to collect more money. People are under the false impression that the lead is the problem, and the government is using this impression to market this change. Again, an honest approach to this problem would require car owners to install catalytic converters to reap the environmental benefits of this change.

At 6:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Catalytic converters cleaned up the horrible air pollution in California....then along came MTBE which was sold to the consumer as a "fix-it" for fuel: it would be more efficient, better mileage, less air pollution, etc. MTBE happens to be a by-product of gasoline production that previously was "wasted" (IE. not used for profit) so it was re-packaged as this miracle additive to fuel.

MTBE then got into the water system NOT because of leaky tanks (although we have those too) but because the exhaust settles on the ground and roads and rain washes it into the earth and water---and it eventually gets into the acquifer. Well, now it's there, and guess what? MTBEs cause cancer!

Now we have cancerous DON'T adopt MTBEs, DO make catalytic converters standard equipment and better yet, invest in mass transit and bike paths.

At 5:07 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

From another California Girl:

MTBE is bad news. We can taste it in our water supply.

Legislation to ban MTBE has already passed in 16 states and others are introducing bills. Manufacturing of MTBE is also declining in Europe.

MTBE gives water an unpleasant taste at very low concentrations, and thus can render large quantities of groundwater non-potable. The high solubility and persistence of MTBE cause it to travel faster and farther than many other components of gasoline when released into an aquifer. Because it is water soluble, it easily moves through soil, polluting both surface and groundwater.

I'd fight this if I were you.

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