A class action lawsuit charges that major oil companies are manufacturing and selling ethanol blended gasoline that damages marine fuel tanks, engines and other components.

"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, the lead attorney on the case. "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."

Companies named in the suit include ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell, Valero, and ConocoPhillips, as well as PetroDiamond, Tower Energy and Big West.

ExxonMobil last year recorded the largest profits recorded in U.S. history with $40.6 billion. Chevron posted profits of $18.7 billion in 2007.

Oil companies have long mixed additives into their gasoline as a way to boost octane. Methyl tert-butyl ether, commonly known as MTBE, was widely used as an octane booster until 2004, when it was banned in many states because of environmental concerns. In response, ExxonMobil, Chevron and other oil companies selected ethanol as a replacement.

Consumers were never informed about the differences between MTBE and ethanol-mixed gasoline, nor were they informed about the disastrous effects ethanol has on fiberglass marine fuel tanks.

Fiberglass is widely used in the construction of boat fuel tanks. Fiberglass is a combination of individual glass "threads" bound together by a resin. Ethanol dissolves this resin, destroying the tank. Moreover, the dissolved resin enters the fuel system, causing damage to the engine and other components.

Ethanol blended gasoline is particularly harmful in the marine environment because of "phase separation," Kabateck said. Ethanol attracts water. When enough water is absorbed by the ethanol blended gasoline, the ethanol and water solution separates from the gasoline (phase separation), 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.

"The environment pays the price for Exxon and Chevron's deception each time a damaged fuel tank leaks gasoline into the water," Kabateck added.

The suit was filed in U.S. District Court, Central District of California in Los Angeles.

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 a fiberglass fuel tank that had to be replaced because of damage caused by ethanol blended gasoline bought from a California retailer.