EU scraps plan to highlight tar sands pollution

Refiners need to report the average carbon impact of petrol and diesel, but not identify highly polluting sources, under new rules

Tar sands in Alberta, Canada (Source: Flickr/Howl Arts Collective)

Tar sands in Alberta, Canada
(Source: Flickr/Howl Arts Collective)

By Ed King

The European Commission does not plan to make energy companies label fuel derived from tar sands, a stance green groups say is a victory for Canadian and US lobbyists.

This was revealed in proposals to implement the 2009 fuel quality directive, which aims to cut the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of fuel for road vehicles 6% by 2020.

The decision was released on the day a tanker carrying 700,000 barrels of crude from the Alberta tar sands arrived in Italy, the second such shipment to the EU this year.

It takes large volumes of energy and water to extract crude from tar sands before it can be piped for refining, making it a particularly carbon-intensive fuel source.

But in a development angering climate campaigners, the commission said refiners do not have to explicitly identify whether they use tar sands to make road fuels.

Instead, they only have to report the average carbon intensity of their petrol and diesel products, obscuring the impact of different feedstocks.

Outgoing EU climate chief Connie Hedegaard welcomed the proposals, admitting that resistance from some member states over the treatment of tar sands had slowed progress significantly.

“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,” she said.

“I strongly recommend Member States to adopt this proposal and keep the safeguards that will allow cleaner fuels to be used in transport across Europe”.

A separate document says the lifecycle CO2 emissions from tar sands are 131 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per Mega Joule of fuel (gCO2eq/MJ), compared to 92.3 for conventional crude.

Nusa Urbancic from campaign group Transport & Environment said officials in Brussels had allowed Canadian and US lobbyists remove plans to single out tar sands after a “five year siege”.

“That is not just a tragedy for the climate; excusing the oil industry from carbon reduction efforts is unfair, inefficient, and costly as well,” she added.

Greenpeace’s energy and transport policy director Franziska Achterberg said recent trade talks between EU, Canada and the US had been used to weaken environmental regulations to allow an increase in tar sand exports.

She urged incoming commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to take a different approach to his predecessor, Jose Manuel Barroso.

“The Barroso commission has chosen to put trade deals like TTIP before the environment. This should be a lesson to Juncker and his team. Public opposition will only intensify if he allows trade deals to be used to undermine the EU’s environmental legislation,” she said.

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