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Canada’s tar sands could be banned from Europe

tar sands no.jpgEurope has moved to block import of oil from environmentalists’ current bête noir: Canadian tar sands. But Canada has already threatened retaliatory action.

Europe’s pending revision of its fuel directive assigns a number of grams of carbon dioxide equivalents per megajoule of energy for each fuel. The European Commission yesterday agreed that more environmentally damaging fuels — such as tar sands and shale oil — should have higher values than, for example, crude oil.

“With today’s proposal we send clear signal: as fossil fuels will be a reality in foreseeable future it’s important to give them a right value,” said climate action commissioner Connie Hedegaard’s twitter feed.

The move — which still has to be approved by European member states and the European Parliament — has been praised by environmental groups.

However, Canada’s Natural Resources Minister has already responded by threatening to take Europe to the World Trade Organization if Europe’s new Fuel Quality Directive does single out his country’s fuel.

“Should the European Union implement unjustified measures which discriminate against the oil sands, we won’t hesitate to defend our interests. They are doing it believing, apparently, that there is no downside,” said Joe Oliver (according to Canadian press reports).

Canadian oil sands were also hit today by a report from the country’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. In this report the commissioner looks at whether the federal government has properly examined the environmental effects of oil sands work in Alberta, as required under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

According to the report, environmental monitoring of the impact of these projects has been inadequate.

“As a consequence, decisions about oil sands projects have been based on incomplete, poor, or non-existent environmental information that has, in turn, led to poorly informed decisions,” says the report.

Which isn’t to say that nothing is known. The report outlines that some trends in the region are understood:

For example, the federal government has reported that oil-sands projects are among the largest and fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. The federal government has also reported that air pollutants from oil-sands projects have more than doubled in the last decade. For the first time, this pollution has led to acid rain, putting at risk freshwater lakes and boreal forests in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan and, perhaps, in the Northwest Territories.

Image: photo by DianeWorth via Flickr under creative commons.


  1. Report this comment

    Alex Ling said:

    Would this action have an actual impact on export of Canadian oil to Europe given that the predominant market anyway is the United States? More to the point, how much of this is just posturing to make a point?

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