Harford County Executive James M. Harkins says he might propose a moratorium on new gas stations in all or part of the county until investigators determine the source of a gasoline additive leak near Fallston that has contaminated wells at 84 properties.
State environmental officials have said an Exxon station at Routes 152 and 165 is at least partly responsible for a leak of methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE. As a result of the contamination, much of the community in the Upper Crossroads section has turned to bottled water for drinking and cooking.
Elected officials are gearing up to address the issue. A state legislator is calling for expanded MTBE testing near the Exxon station and for requiring its removal from gasoline. County Council members are drafting bills aimed at safeguarding the county's water supply.
"Protecting the water supply will be the big issue in the council the second half of this year," said Councilman Robert G. Cassilly, a Bel Air Republican.
Harkins said Friday that the administration's legal department is working with Councilwoman Veronica "Roni" L. Chenowith on legislation that would ban new gas stations from neighborhoods that draw their water from individual wells. Chenowith represents the Upper Crossroads area.
"Something happened at Upper Crossroads," Harkins said. "The system is not working. Something fell apart in the process. The checks and balances at Upper Crossroads did not work."
Harkins said it is too early to offer details of the proposed legislation, but he added that it could take the direction of "no more gas stations anywhere until we get answers" to what went wrong at Upper Crossroads.
Harkins' proposal drew mixed reaction from industry representatives.
Paul Fiore of the Washington, Maryland, Delaware Service Station and Automotive Repair Association said he would reserve judgment until he had time to discuss it with directors of the group. The association represents about 1,400 service stations, the majority of them in Maryland.
Peter Horrigan, president of the Mid-Atlantic Petroleum Distributors' Association, called a moratorium a "local reaction to a global problem."
He said Harford County and Maryland would be better served if local elected officials backed a national energy policy that would eliminate MTBE from gasoline.
Although Maryland Department of the Environment officials say the Exxon station is at least partly responsible for the MTBE situation, no leaks have been detected at the station.
Del. Joanne S. Parrott, a Republican who represents Upper Crossroads, said a new test, aimed at detecting a possible leak of MTBE vapor from the station's fuel system, would be done at the station starting July 19.
She said the test will take five to 10 days. "This test will tell if it's leaking from the nozzle, from the hose, a valve, a fitting or the storage tank," she said.
Parrott said she is also pushing MDE and Exxon Mobil Corp. to test all wells within a mile of the Exxon station. "People are concerned," she said. "They want to know if their water is safe."
She said Exxon Mobil agreed Friday to test the wells of homes on Orchard Lakes Drive, Stanley Drive and Artemus Court, all of which are beyond the half-mile radius where most tests have occurred.
Parrott said she also plans to introduce a bill to require that MTBE be removed from gasoline sold in the county and probably the rest of the state.
County Council members Cassilly and Cecelia M. Stepp said they feel they have enough information to move ahead on new measures to protect the county's water supply, including changes in zoning laws and adoption of a much-discussed wellhead protection plan.