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.

Updates & Resources

New study compares federal party positions on climate, tar sands and clean energy


October 2nd 2015

Blog Post: Today two of Canada’s largest environmental groups released a summary of the five major federal parties’ positions on environmental issues, including climate change and the upcoming Paris climate summit, tar sands and the Energy East pipeline as well as renewable energy, public transit and the electrification of transportation. The study is based on responses to a series of questions that the environmental groups sent to the Conservative Party of Canada, the Green Party of Canada, the Liberal Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party, and (in the French version) the Bloc Québécois. All parties responded to the questionnaire except for the Conservative Party.

What is TransCanada’s latest Hail Mary about?

Jane Kleeb | Bold Nebraska - October 8th 2015

Blog Post: TransCanada’s latest Hail Mary has many people scratching their heads. For those of us on the ground, we see through their antics. TransCanada cannot use eminent domain for at least two yearsbecause of a Nebraska law that makes it clear once you invoke eminent domain (which they did months ago) and then abandon eminent domain (which they did last week), you can not use those powers again for at least two years.

California just signed a landmark bill to tackle climate change


Raven Rakia | Grist - October 8th 2015

Press Clipping: It’s official. California Gov. Jerry Brown just signed climate-change bill SB 350 into law. The landmark measure promises to reduce California’s greenhouse gases by increasing the use of renewable energy. By 2030, 50 percent of the state’s electricity will be produced by renewable energy (solar, wind, geothermal). You probably have broken out in celebratory dance by now. Which is fine, because this is great news.

Canadian Climate Policy Report Card: 2015


Marc Jaccard | Simon Fraser University - October 8th 2015

Report: In this 2015 climate policy report card, I evaluate the Canadian government’s emission commitments and policy actions. In the nine years since its promise to reduce Canadian emissions 20% by 2020 and 65% by 2050, the Canadian government has implemented virtually no polices that would materially reduce emissions. The 2020 target is now unachievable without great harm to the Canadian economy. And this may also be the case for the 2050 target, which would require an almost complete transformation of the Canadian energy system in the remaining 35 years.

After the Sands: How will Canada weather a low-carbon future?

Gordon Laxer | University of Alberta - October 8th 2015

Blog Post: Hailed as “a myth-destroying blockbuster book” by Ralph Nader, After the Sands outlines a vision and road map to transition Canada to a low- carbon society: a plan lacking within all of Canada’s major political parties. After the Sands sets out a bold strategy using deep conservation and a Canada-first perspective. The goal: to end oil and natural gas exports and ensure that all Canadians get sufficient energy at affordable prices in a carbon-constrained future.

The planet can’t handle five more years of Harper

Cam Fenton | 350.org - October 7th 2015

Press Clipping: This election has been rough. It's not just the eleven week marathon campaign, or the series of underwhelming shout-fest debates. For me, as someone who is direly concerned about the fate of our planet, it's the simple reality that among Canada's major political parties none have the courage to put forward a plan that reflects the simple scientific truth about tackling the climate crisis -- fossil fuels need to stay in the ground. Since Canada is home to of the world's largest pools of carbon -- the Alberta Tar Sands -- this is a pretty big deal.

All quiet on the science front


Michael Rennie | Canadian Journalists for Free Expression - October 6th 2015

Blog Post: The Canadian public values credible and trustworthy information, and it doesn’t currently believe that our governments are in a position to provide it. A critical means of restoring the public’s trust in government is to provide more transparency into how decisions are made and how various pieces of information are weighed in the decision-making process. Denying government scientists the ability to comment on their own work only makes it look like there’s something to hide, and it suggests that there is neither trust in the scientists who conducted the study to speak objectively, nor in the public to hear what the study has to say from the person most qualified to discuss it.

How Harper triggered a First Nations legal war over Northern Gateway


Mychaylo Prystupa | National Observer - October 6th 2015

Press Clipping: Eight B.C. First Nations are in federal court to launch a legal attack on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. The coalition hopes to overturn Ottawa’s conditional approval of the project, which would deliver Alberta crude to B.C.’s north coast. The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip pledged to go to jail if necessary to stop the pipeline, and said the federal Conservative government has “completely demonized and vilified Indigenous peoples of this country and has declared all of these [energy] projects in the national interest.”