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First shipment of tar sands oil heads to Europe

tar sands oil

Research from the European Commission puts tar sands oil 23% more greenhouse intensive than conventional crude oil. Creative Commons: Dru Oja Jay Dominion, 2008

The first shipment of oil from Canadian tar sands has arrived in Europe this week – giving rise to fears the continent could now be gearing up to take advantage of this dirty energy source.

The shipment – of between 500,000 and 600,000 barrels of oil – was scheduled to arrive in the Bilbao port of Spain on 29 May, where it will then be transported to refineries owned by Spanish oil company Repsol.

Although it is still unclear how the tar sands oil arrived from Canada to the Gulf Coast, Platts is reporting the tar sands oil is being transported from the US on a tanker – the Aleksey Kosygin – along with a shipment of oil from Mexico.

Campaigners are worried that is could become the first of many shipments of the dirty oil, opening up a lucrative new market for the carbon-intensive fuel.

Tar sands are one of the most polluting and controversial forms of fossil fuel – with research putting then 23% more greenhouse intensive than conventional crude oil.

European campaigners are entangled in an on-going battle to keep the dirty fuel out of Europe – fighting back against an extensive Canadian lobbying campaign to undermine a key piece of EU climate legislation; the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD).

The FQD is designed to reduce emissions from transport fuel by 6% by 2020.

Approved in 2009, if properly implemented the law would effectively ban tar sands from Europe, labelling it – and other unconventional oils – as more polluting than conventional crude.

It would also provide an incentive for oil companies to invest in lower-carbon sources and emission reduction technologies.

Yet despite proposed detailed rules for applying the law, set out in 2011, the FQD has yet to be fully been implemented.

Worryingly, it appeared that the European Commission has caved to intense lobbying, using the proposals for the EU 2030 climate and energy policies to “quietly scrap” the FQD from 2020.

Meanwhile research released by the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) has warned that failing to implement the measures in the interim, up to 2020, could see tar sands imports “grow from a trickle to a flood”, resulting in 700,000 barrels a day entering European ports every day by 2020.

That would result in an emissions increase equivalent to putting six million cars on the road, the report warned.

While very little of it currently makes its way to Europe, that could change as new pipelines are developed, such as TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, making it easier to ship the dirty oil to the continent.

Canada currently sits on the world’s third-largest crude reserves after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The vast majority is unconventional – including tar sands.

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