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26th Jan 2020

EU appears to back down on Canada's tar sands

  • Tar sands extraction in Fort McMurray, Canada (Photo: CanadaGood)

EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard appears to have temporarily backed down from plans to make reference to Canada's controversial tar sands in the EU's upcoming directive on fuel quality.

As recently as June, the commission's climate directorate had suggested that figures estimating the energy efficiency of the fuel would be included in this December's proposal, along with an array of data on other fuels such as petrol and hydrogen.

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But a leaked a draft seen by Reuters on Monday (4 October) appears to confirm earlier reports that tar oil will be left out of the list, with angry environmentalists blaming pressures within the commission, as well as from Canada.

Canada had feared that inclusion of the tar sands in the EU's forthcoming fuel quality directive would amount to a prohibitive barrier against trade, with the two sides currently negotiating a free-trade agreement.

Sources say Canada's mission to the European Union has been active in lobbying on the issue, with the tar sands in the North American country's Alberta region estimated to be the second largest reserve in the world after those under Saudi Arabia.

The commission's trade department is also thought to have been unhappy with the inclusion of tar oils on the list.

But environmental groups point to the large amount of energy needed to extract the oil from the sediment in which it lies, arguing that future imports would go against the EU's plans to reduce transport CO2 emissions by 10 percent on 1990 levels over the next decade.

Instead, the draft text suggests the tar sands will be evaluated at some point before December 2011, a year later than previously anticipated, with the commission justifying the decision to leave the fuel out on the basis of a lack of scientific data.

The omission has produced alarm however.

"We see the commission as unwilling to include a value on oil sands, even though they have a value," Greenpeace transport policy advisor Franziska Achterberg told this website. "We think the value should be included and if it needs to be renewed in a year then it can be."

Although almost no tar oil is imported into the EU at present, environmental lobbies say this is set to change with the building of a pipeline from Canada's Alberta region to the Gulf of Mexico.

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