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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Overview:
- 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.

Updates & Resources

The Dirt :: The Canadian Election Edition, Vol. 2

Editors | Tar Sands Solution Network - August 27th 2015

Blog Post: Until October 19, The Dirt will bring you the latest news on how Canadians are trying to make climate policy an important part of the next federal election. In this issue, an Aboriginal community in the heart of the tar sands region has built a solar energy project so it doesn’t have to rely on fossil fuels, and Canadian climate activists bird-dog Canadian politicians for the third week in a row.

How a cardboard sign and a Sharpie forced climate change onto the campaign trail

Feature

August 27th 2015

Blog Post: Yesterday, local activists disrupted Stephen Harper’s campaign stop in Montreal to remind him that you can’t avoid the issue of climate and tar sands expansion if you’re campaigning to be leader of this country. In a packed room of supporters in the suburban riding of Pointe-Claire, one climate activist interrupted the Prime Minister’s speech, as several other organizers rallied outside the venue.

Halifax sea levels spiked by 11cm in two years

Zachary Markan | CBC News - August 27th 2015

Press Clipping: If you live on the Atlantic Seaboard, you’ll want to read this. A new study from a group of U.S. scientists is raising concerns about the potential for extreme sea-level rises in Atlantic Canada in the years to come. Researchers divided the coastline into three areas, and the zone north of New York City saw an overall sea-level increase of 94 millimetres during the two-year period of 2009 and 2010. Halifax saw a sea-level rise of 110 millimetres during that time. Portland, Maine saw the largest increase — 128 millimetres. Yikes!

Canadian Medical Association divesting fossil fuel holdings

Feature

Andre Picard | Globe and Mail - August 27th 2015

Press Clipping: The Canadian Medical Association will divest its holdings in fossil-fuel companies, a move doctors hope will send a powerful symbolic message that climate change is an urgent health concern. “Given the health impacts of fossil fuels, we have to take a stand,” Courtney Howard, a board member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and a physician practising in Yellowknife, said, likening the move to earlier decisions by the organization to divest out of tobacco companies.

How low can it go? Collapsing crude in election season

Feature

Hannah McKinnon | Oil Change International - August 26th 2015

Blog Post: In the lead up to the Canadian federal election, the economy is front and centre, but not in the way the incumbent government would have liked. The Conservatives have gone to great lengths to brand themselves as good economic managers, but with the Canadian dollar hitting its lowest point in over a decade, their election case is losing credibility fast. The Harper Government focussed too much attention on the Alberta tar sands, and when crude oil prices crashed late last year, the strategic weaknesses of this plan were clear.

Santa Clara Co. supervisors voice opposition to proposed crude oil trains

August 26th 2015

Press Clipping: The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved Tuesday a resolution against a project that would bring trains carrying oil through the county. The proposed rail spur extension project in San Luis Obispo County would allow up to five trains with 80 cars to travel through 40 miles of track in the county on a weekly basis. Supervisor Ken Yeager said the project is “very unsafe” for an urban area like Santa Clara County, which has nearly 2 million residents.

Environmental activists arrested outside John Kerry’s house

Feature

Dhyana Taylor and Jacob Kerr | Huffington Post - August 26th 2015

Press Clipping: Twenty activists protesting an international pipeline expansion project were arrested outside Secretary of State John Kerry’s residence in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. They were part of a group of about 100 demonstrators calling on Kerry to block Enbridge Energy from expanding its Alberta Clipper oil sands pipeline, which runs from Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. “Why in the world would we let them proceed without an environmental review?” said Greta Herrin, a student from Kalamazoo, Michigan. “This is a corporation that has shown a complete disregard for the people and the Earth.”