Oil Industry Lobbyists Play Dirty Against Clean Fuel Standards

California’s top air quality regulator corrects industry misinformation provided to European government officials.

Oil industry lobbyists have been working to convince European governments to drop environmental standards that would result in proper accounting and cleaning up of dirtier fuel sources, such as Canadian tar sands. In 2009, California implemented similar provisions now being considered in the European Union with the adoption of the state's clean fuel standard, known as the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, phasing in cleaner fuels while phasing out dirtier ones.

Unfortunately, news in Europe is spreading that oil industry and Canadian officials' lobbying efforts have gotten just plain dirty (see recent media coverage here and here). It turns out they were spreading misinformation that “the US consideration of similar measures had just failed, as it was ‘unimplementable.’” This has caused quite a row, since – in fact – California had not dropped the provision and was moving forward with implementing the provision under its Low Carbon Fuel Standard, including a key vote to improve the provision even more on December 16th.

It’s one thing for industry lobbyists to try to beat up and weaken standards. It’s another thing to fail and tell everyone else you’ve won. The California letter, sent by Chairwoman Mary Nichols of the Air Resources Board to European Commissioner Connie Heedegard, corrected the record by stating:

 “In short, we believe that a robust greenhouse gas (GHG) regulation to address transportation fuels like the LCFS must account for differences in the carbon intensity (CI) of crudes – all crudes are not the same when it comes to CI.”   

 Why should we care whether clean fuel standards account for dirtier stuff? Because the oil industry, it turns out, has been spending fifty (50x) times more in a single dirty crude oil source – tar sands – compared to their entire capital expenditures in renewable fuels globally. That’s $190 billion the past five years on dirtier stuff from one location alone (Alberta, Canada) versus $4 billion globally in cleaner fuels.[1] The score gets even worse if you start accounting for oil industry investments in the other unconventional, harder to get at crude oils like from oil shale and coal.  

The only way to change this trend it is to level the playing field and allow cleaner fuels to compete on a performance-basis versus dirtier fuels. The only way you can do that is to give dirty fuels the right carbon score. 

As a spokesman in the European Parliament put in the press recently, “The oil industry has claimed that it would be costly and difficult to track where oil comes from. We can trace eggs back to the farm from which they came, but one of the richest and most technologically-advances industries cannot keep track of the origin of its products? It is not a convincing argument.”

 Let’s make sure that the oil industry doesn’t stack the deck in favor of dirtier fuels like tar sands by turning a blind-eye to their emissions. Tell California's Air Resources Board that you support their efforts to account for even dirtier fuels under the Low Carbon Fuel Standard, and to move forward to strenghten it despite the interference.

Submit your comments at:


or write to: Clerk of the Board, California Air Resources Board, 1001 I Street, Sacramento, CA 95814.


[1] Sources for investments are based on Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Statistical Handbook, 2010 tables showing oil industry investments in Alberta, Canada. Global capital expenditures in renewable fuels by the oil industry were obtained based on publically disclosed transactions from Bloomberg New Energy Finance services, Hart Energy, and the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook series.