Sunday

19th Feb 2017

Tar sands go political as key vote ends in deadlock

  • The dispute is a test of the EU's green credentials (Photo: . Shell)

EU member states have failed to name tar sands a high polluting energy source following intense lobbying by oil companies and Canada but green groups and the European Commission hope the politicisation of the discussion will work in their favour.

A expert committee vote on Thursday (23 February) did not find the required majority in favour of a European Commission proposal to designate oil from tar sands as particularly damaging to the environment, with Poland and Spain among those that voted against the idea and France, the Netherlands and the UK - home to international oil companies - abstaining.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The stalemate means the issue is now likely to be dealt with by EU environment ministers at a meeting in June - taking what to date has been a behind-closed-doors debate into the open.

EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard acknowledged the extent of the lobbying against the commission's suggestion to label tar sands as causing 22 percent more greenhouse gases.

"With all the lobbyism against the Commission proposal, I feared that member states' experts would have rejected the proposal in today's experts committee. I am glad that this was not the case," she said in a statement.

"Now our proposal will go to ministers, and I hope governments will realise that unconventional fuels of course need to account for their considerably higher emissions through separate values."

Green groups are also hoping that a more public debate will make ministers less inclined to give into lobby pressure.

“Now that the tar sands issue is finally in the hands of publicly accountable ministers, we will see who’s pulling the strings in Europe. The evidence is clear: tar sands are the world’s dirtiest fuels," said Franziska Achterberg from environment NGO Greenpeace.

Canada, estimated to have the world's third biggest oil reserve, most of it is locked up in tar sands, has been exerting the greatest pressure on EU countries.

The Guardian newspaper recently revealed that Ottawa threatened a trade war with the EU if it went ahead with the energy classification under the so-called fuel quality directive.

Darek Urbaniak, from Friends of the earth Europe, told this website that Canada's language on the issue started getting progressively "harsher and undiplomatic" from late autumn in 2011.

He also noted that the Canadian government organised numerous meetings on the issue with officials from member states, at times one every three days.

Tar sands requires extra processing to make it liquid, a step that results in the extra greenhouse gases.

The dispute is being seen as a test of the EU's environmental resolve with the bloc having agreed to reduce CO2 emissions by 20 percent by 2020.

Reacting to Thursday's non-decision, Joe Oliver, Canadian natural resources minister, said: "We are pleased to see that many EU countries are opposed to this discriminatory measure. We are working to determine what the next steps will be.

The Government of Canada’s position on this remains unchanged."

The EU is currently also fighting on a separate green front. A gang of countries, including Russia and China, have said they will not accept new European rules obliging all airlines to take part in an emissions trading scheme.

EU to put higher pollution price on tar sands

The European Commission on Tuesday proposed that oil derived from tar sands be given a higher greenhouse-gas emission value, a move slammed as "unjustified" and "discriminatory" by Canada, the world's largest producer of this fossil fuel.

End company-car perks, says EU commission

The European Commission tells member states that they should phase out tax breaks for privately used company cars and put in place low-emission zones to improve air quality.

Column / Crude World

Nord Stream 2: The elephant in the room

The European Commission should provide a thorough impact assessment of Nord Stream 2, a project that appears to go against all of its Energy Union objectives.

News in Brief

  1. Migrants storm Spanish enclave of Ceuta
  2. Spain's princess fined for tax fraud, husband sentenced
  3. EU to invest millions in energy infrastructure
  4. Dutch data watchdog forces online vote aides to up security
  5. EU allows Lithuania to ban Russian tv channel
  6. Finland announces increase in defence spending
  7. Ex-PM Blair says Brits should 'rise up' against Brexit
  8. Nato chief says facts to prevail over fake news

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  3. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations
  4. Salzburg Global SeminarThe Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play
  5. UNICEFNumber of Ukrainian Children Needing Aid Nearly Doubles to 1 Million Over the Past Year
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersThe Situation of Refugee Women in Europe
  7. Salzburg Global SeminarToward a Shared Culture of Health: Charting the Patient-Clinician Relationship
  8. European Free AllianceAustria Should Preserve & Promote Bilingual and Multinational Carinthia
  9. Martens CentreShow Your Love for Democracy! Take Part in Our Contest: "If It's Broken, Let's Fix It"
  10. CISPECloud Computing Leaders Establish Data Protection Standards to Protect Customer Data
  11. Malta EU 2017Landmark Deal Reached With European Parliament on Portability of Online Content
  12. Belgrade Security ForumBSF 2017: Building a Common Future in the Age of Uncertainty