Europeans Say No to Tar Sands Oil

Today a letter went from 17 Members of the European Parliament to the European Commission in protest of tar sands oil. This is the second letter protesting tar sands oil coming from Parliamentarians in the past half year and it shows a growing concern that Europe not open its doors to this higher carbon intensity fuel.

Today’s letter focuses on the European Fuel Quality Directive which sets up a framework for Europe to clean up its transportation fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is similar to what California did with the low carbon fuel standard. However, both in Europe and in California the success of the law will depend on how it is put into practice. The Parliamentarians rightly say that to be effective, the fuel standard needs to take into account that fuels of different carbon intensities cannot all be lumped together. Europeans want to know if their fuel is coming from higher-carbon intensity sources such as tar sands or oil shale. The letter from Parliamentarians follows an earlier letter showing that the European environmental community joins with U.S. and Canadian environmental groups in recognizing the dangers of tar sands oil.

The Parliamentarian letter also rightly notes that without being able to distinguish among the carbon intensity of fuels, Europe will end up negating emissions savings coming from low carbon alternative fuels and other climate legislation. European Parliamentarians will continue the debate over tar sands oil on May 5 in a Brussels forum “Tar sands – undermining EU climate ambitions? This is the right question to be asking. Tar sands imports are already undermining U.S. clean energy and climate goals. If the United States increases tar sands imports by 3 million barrels per day, this would increase the carbon in the fuel supply by 3.4%. The increasing import of tar sands oil to the United States could offset all the gains made under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard.

Despite increasing public scrutiny and outrage in Europe, oil companies are fighting hard to stay entrenched in our fuel supply. Just last December, a group of 11 European Members of Parliament wrote to the leaders of four European oil companies (Shell, Statoil, BP and Total) to stop producing oil from Canadian tar sands.  Norwegian Statoil has already been under scrutiny in last year’s elections for its role in tar sands oil extraction. More recently, investors have voiced their displeasure with British Petroleum’s tar sands investments.

And Canada, the source of tar sands oil, seems to be teaming up with the oil companies.  Over the last year, Canada has written to the European Commission asking that tar sands be treated like any other oil – grossly downplaying the significant lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of tar sands. Canada did the same thing in California, writing to the Governor and openly threatening trade repercussions should the California low carbon fuel standard acknowledge the higher lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of fuels such as tar sands.

“The EU should send a clear signal now that it is serious about its climate commitment and about the decarbonisation of transport fuel,” today’s letter states. That means making sure that tar sands oil imports are held to a rigorous and transparent scrutiny so that consumers can decide if tar sands oil is worth the high cost in greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, water pollution, wildlife habitat destruction, and destruction of Boreal forests and wetlands – one of the world’s great remaining carbon reservoirs.

Seventeen Members of the European Parliament signed this letter. And they come from a range of parties and countries throughout the region. Good for them taking a stand for clean energy and against dirty fuels such as tar sands. The European Commission should listen.

You can find the text of today's letter at: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/sclefkowitz/media/2010%2004%20Hedegaard_FQD_final.pdf

About the Authors

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz

Chief Program Officer

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