A draft proposal from the European Commission has put doubt over the future of the EU’s clean fuel targets as it looks to scrap a mandatory requirement to label oil from tar sands as more polluting than other forms of crude oil.
The change would remove a major obstacle to Canada shipping tar sands oil to Europe, and is seen to be a result of years of lobbying from oil companies and the Canadian government.
The EU’s fuel targets – known as the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) – were first proposed in 2009. Aimed at reducing the greenhouse gas intensity of transport fuels by 6% by 2020, the FQD would label fuels on their carbon intensity.
European Commission research showed tar sands to be 23% more carbon intensive than conventional crude.
But with intensive lobbying from the Canadian government, the FQD has yet to be fully implemented as the EU has failed so far to set out accurate carbon labelling for fuels.
While the latest proposal from the Commission retains the value of 107 grams of CO2 for tar sands (also known as natural bitumen) – compared to 93.2 grams for conventional crude – under the new rules refiners would only have to report an EU-wide average of emissions, and would not have to report the use of feedstocks of the higher value.
The draft does, however, propose a review by the end of 2016 to again address the case for introducing higher values for individual fuel sources.
On a blog for Oil Change International, freelance writer Any Rowell wrote:
A win for the tar sands is devastating news for the climate. It means that the whole original rationale behind the Directive – to try and dissuade people using carbon intensive dirty fuels, such as tar sands – has been ripped up.
After years of intense brutal lobbying, the Canadians have won. The EU has buckled to the bully-boys from Canada.
The news comes as the first shipment of highly polluting Canadian tar sands oil arrived in Europe last week.
The 570,000 barrels of Western Canada Select heavy blend crude – seen as a test shipment of the fuel – were met at the Spanish port of Bilbao by a protest by Spanish environmentalists.
Mariano González of Ecologists in Action say the protests were the first in a series of planned actions “coordinating a rejection of the entry of this type of oil into Europe”.
Environmental groups Friends of the Earth Europe, Transport & Environment and Greenpeace have also condemned the shipment, warning it is a snapshot of Europe’s energy future – a continued addiction to ever-dirtier oil.
Laura Buffet from Transport & Environment said:
The landing of massive amounts of dirty tar sands to our shores runs counter to Europe’s stated aspirations to decarbonise transport and curtail its addiction to oil. European drivers will be forced to fill up their tanks with tar sands that will raise emissions – not lower them – and push up the costs of decarbonisation by billions of euros.
Tar sands, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels in commercial production today, has been described as “the biggest carbon bomb on the planet” by leading climate change scientist James Hansen.
The extraction of the oil also causes pollution and deforestation, kills wildlife and threatens indigenous Canadian communities.
Currently only exploited on a large scale in Canada, a report by US-based Natural Resource Defense Council recently showed that tar sands imports to Europe could skyrocket to over 700,000 barrels per day in 2020 as a result of planned pipelines in the US and Canada.
The groups are calling on the European Commission to stand by its pledge and implement a strong FQD and keep this most polluting of fuels out of Europe.