Tar Sands Solutions Network

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Unchecked expansion of the Canadian tar sands has become a contentious issue all over the world, especially in Europe where climate change policy and action are taken very seriously.

The European Union has committed to reducing the greenhouse gas intensity of fuels used in vehicles by six per cent by 2020, and have recommended that tar sands oil be categorized as 23 per cent dirtier than traditional forms of crude. In response, Big Oil and the Canadian government have mounted an unprecedented lobbying campaign to undermine Europe's clean fuel policies, which has delayed the implementation of the EU's Fuel Quality Directive and interfered in progress toward meeting these emissions-reduction goals.

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- European Commission aims to categorize tar sands oil as 23% more carbon intensive
Key Problems:
- Canada fiercely opposes the categorization of oil sands as dirty oil
- Canada is aggressively lobbying to undermine EU climate action
- Implementing regulations delayed
Current Status:
- Implementation of the Fuel Quality Directive has been delayed
- First shipment of dirty tar sands crude arrived in Spain in late May 

In March 2011, the European Commission committed itself to a 70 per cent reduction (from 2008 levels) in carbon emissions from the transportation sector. Part of that commitment is to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of fuels used in vehicles by six per cent by 2020. This requires reducing emissions from the extraction, production, processing and distribution of the fuels themselves. The EU’s Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) obliges suppliers to reduce the lifecycle greenhouse gas intensity of transportation fuel six per cent by 2020 (compared with 2010).

In October 2011, the European Commission proposed detailed rules for implementing the fuel quality law, which included default values for fuels based on their greenhouse gas emissions. Not surprisingly, tar sands-derived fuels are dirtier than most others: with 107 grams of carbon per megajoule, it produced significantly more GHGs than average conventional crude oil (87.5 grams). A recent study by Transport Environment calculates the tar sands designation in the FQD is equivilant to removing emissions of 7 million cars from Europe's roads.

The Canadian and Alberta governments, in collusion with the global oil industry, tout their own funded studies with wildly different numbers, and have been aggressively lobbying the European Union to give tar sands oil a free pass. In January 2010, they launched the Pan-European Oil Sands Advocacy Strategy to inaccurately portray tar sands development as clean, responsible and sustainable.

It's important to understand that tar sands fuel is not being singled out, as Canadian politicians claim. The FQD also provides high-carbon values for fuels like oil shale and coal-to-liquid (which are in fact more greenhouse gas-intensive than tar sands ).

Canada's interference in European climate change policy, as well as its withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, has angered many European politicians and ruined Canada's reputation as an environmentally friendly nation committed to sustainable development. As a result, the world-famous Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres, Germany’s largest and most prestigious research institute, pulled out of a Canadian government-funded research project into sustainable solutions to tar sands pollution, citing fears for its environmental reputation.

Various environmental groups, including the UK Tar Sands Network, Friends of the Earth Europe, Transport Environment, WWF Gernany and Greenpeace Germany, as well as a number of Canadian organizations, have teamed up to thwart Canada's efforts to undermine the EU's new climate policy.

Europe Updates & Resources

Ottawa celebrates oilsands victory in EU

Lauren Krugel | Canadian Press - February 9th 2015

Press Clipping: Oilsands crude can now be sent to Europe without a "dirty oil" label, but that doesn't necessarily mean a parade of bitumen-filled tankers will be crossing the Atlantic any time soon. In December, oilsands exporters won a narrow victory in the European Parliament over its fuel quality directive. On Friday, it became official. The original version of the directive singled out oilsands crude as more carbon intensive, but the revised one voted on in December didn't include that stigma.

Canadian oil sands exporters narrowly survive ‘dirty oil’ vote

Bruce Cheadle | Globe and Mail - December 18th 2014

Press Clipping: Canadian oil-sands exporters narrowly survived a vote in the European Parliament on Wednesday that could have once again penalized Alberta bitumen as dirty oil. Canadian negotiators thought the matter was settled this fall when the European Commission backed off and decided all European feedstock crude would be assigned common carbon intensity values, without singling out higher intensity sources such as Canadian bitumen. However, the European Parliament’s environment committee flatly rejected the proposal earlier this month, forcing Wednesday’s vote.

EU vote puts Canadian dirty-oil label back on the agenda

Barbara Lewis | Globe and Mail - December 4th 2014

Press Clipping: Europe moved a step towards a plan to stigmatize Canada’s tar sands as highly polluting on Wednesday, when European Parliament lawmakers voted against the EU executive’s proposal to abandon the scheme. “If the EU is serious about tackling climate change it should discourage the development of these highly greenhouse-gas-intensive unconventional fossil fuels,” said Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, Dutch member of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, who initiated Wednesday’s vote.

Tar sands devastation unveiled outside Canada-Europe Energy Roundtable

November 18th 2014

Blog Post: A coalition of climate and social justice organizations and artists held a silent presence and unveiled a large landscape which depicts the devastation caused by Canadian tar sands outside the Canada Europe Energy Roundtable this morning. “Communities from across the UK have come together to show our solidarity with those communities on the front lines of tar sands who have lived for generations in close relationship with the land,” said Amanda Cid, a community artist.

Europe is tiptoeing around Canada’s climate change record

Campbell Clark | Globe and Mail - November 12th 2014

Press Clipping: Francois Hollande was here to do business, so he was careful to be positive when it came to the tricky matter of Canada’s record on climate change. When a French TV reporter asked Mr. Hollande if it’s a conflict to urge French companies to invest in Alberta when it is home to the “very polluting” oil sands, Mr. Harper jumped in to say, “for information purposes” that Canada had reduced emissions from the oil sands by 40 per cent in recent years. But of course, that’s not true.

Canada, US and Big Oil bullying dilutes EU dirty fuel law

October 7th 2014

Blog Post: After five years of heavy-handed lobbying by Canada, the US and oil majors, the European Commission today published fuel quality rules that fail to discourage oil companies from using and investing in the world’s dirtiest oil such as tar sands and coal-to-liquid. “After a five-year siege by Canadian officials and industry lobbyists, the EU is letting oil corporations off the hook,” said Nusa Urbancic of T&E.

Dirty Deals: Trade talks undermine EU climate change regulation

July 17th 2014

Publication: This briefing demonstrates how corporate lobby groups are using trade threats, and particularly the EU-US trade talks as a vehicle to attack, weaken and delay important environmental regulation still in the making. The Fuel Quality Directive has already being delayed and potentially weakened threatening EU climate policies and an influx of tar sands to Europe.

First shipment of Canadian tar sands heads towards EU shores


Sophie Yeo | Responding to Climate Change - May 28th 2014

Blog Post: A shipment of oil from Canadian tar sands is due to arrive in Europe next week – the first time that the highly polluting fossil fuel has made its way into the continent. The delivery will give rise to fears that Europe is now gearing up to take advantage of Canada’s oil reserves, creating a crucial market for the polluting fuel in the face of declining US demand and providing an incentive for Canadian companies to scale up production of the oil.