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European Commission: Tar sands no dirtier than other fuels

The European Commission has backed down from plans to label fuels derived from tar sands as more polluting than other fuels.

oil-sands-1aThe move, which EU member states must yet approve, could ease the importation of oil extracted from Canadian tar soils. But environmental groups say it is a blow to Europe’s climate protection targets.

Thanks to Alberta’s extensive tar sands, Canada holds the world’s second largest oil reserves, after Saudi Arabia. But the extraction of oil from tar sands uses considerably more energy and water than conventional oil mining.

The EU’s Fuel Quality Directive requires fuel suppliers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicle fuels by 6% by 2020.

In 2011, Brussels had proposed to restrict the use of fuel derived from tar sands by revising the directive to classify tar sands as 20% more carbon intensive – in terms of carbon dioxide emissions per unit energy – than other fuel sources. But the following year the European Commission’s proposal was voted down by member states concerned over Canada’s threat to take the issue to the World Trade Organization.

The Commission’s new proposal, released on October 7, requires fuel suppliers to report an average carbon intensity of different fuel types over their lifecycle.

“At this time, the proposed methodology should not require the differentiation of the greenhouse gas intensity of fuel on the basis of the source of the raw material as this would affect current investments in certain refineries in the Union,” the proposed text reads.

“It is no secret that our initial proposal could not go through due to resistance faced in some Member States,” Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s Climate Commissioner, said in a statement.

“However, the Commission is today giving this another push, to try and ensure that in the future, there will be a methodology and thus an incentive to choose less polluting fuels over more polluting ones like for example oil sands.”

Canada has only just begun to ship tar oil to European refineries, but Canadian oil producers hope to increase their market share in the region as EU countries seek to become less dependent on supplies from Russia and the Middle East.

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