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After Years of Intensive Lobbying, EU to Drop Oilsands’ Dirty Fuel Label

The European Union will not label fuel from Alberta’s oilsands as highly polluting despite years of efforts to distinguish the crude and other unconventional fuels for their high environmental impacts.

A proposal released Tuesday by the European Commission lifts a requirement forcing refiners to identify when supplying fuel from unconventional sources such as oilsands or oil shale. The commission will lift the requirement even though internal estimates show these fuel sources contain higher carbon emissions than conventional sources.

The dropped requirement within the European Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) comes after years of intense lobbying on behalf of the Canadian and Albertan government.

"The Harper government, in collaboration with the major oil companies, unleashed an unprecedented assault on clean fuels legislation in Europe even as they gutted environmental laws at home,” Keith Stewart, energy and climate campaigner with Greenpeace Canada, told DeSmog Canada. 

“I think the question Canadians should ask themselves is: Do we want our diplomats to operate as a lobbying arm of Big Oil?" he said.

Stewart also noted the federal government's Pan-European Oil Sands Advocacy Strategy labelled oil companies as "allies" while environmental and Aboriginal groups were listed as "adversaries."

According to EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard, pressure also came from member states siding with Canada on the issue.

“It is no secret that our initial proposal could not go through due to resistance faced in some member states," she said in a statement.

"The Commission is today giving this another push, to try and ensure that in the future, there will be a methodology and thus an incentive to choose less-polluting fuels over more polluting ones like, for example, oil sands," she said.

Greenpeace EU energy and transport policy director Franziska Achterberg said without strong measures limit heavily-polluting fuels from entering the EU market the measure “will fail to meet the law’s objective of cleaning up Europe’s transport fuels.”

Achterberg added that international trade deals like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TIPP) are being used to “undermine the EU’s environmental legislation.”

The commission’s report came the same day as a federal audit from Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development which confirmed Canada has failed to implement any policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector.

The report from commissioner Julie Gelfand found it is unclear what role Environment Canada will play in reducing oilsands emissions after 2015 because no long-term plans are currently in place.

Amin Asadollahi, oilsands director at the Pembina Institute, said the EU’s weakened proposal undermines the Fuel Quality Directive. Without measures to list the emissions values of different fuels, the directive will have “lost its original purpose.”

“It will have little influence on the actions of other countries and corporations that seek to supply fuels to the European Union,” Asadollahi said in a statement.

“Regardless of whether or not the latest proposal is adopted, the fact remains that crude from the oilsands is a high-carbon-intensity fuel source. Moreover, the sector’s emissions intensity has not improved significantly over the past decade, even as overall production and emissions continue to grow.”

The Alberta oilsands are Canada’s fastest-growing source of emissions and the sole reason Canada will not meet its emissions-reduction targets under the Copenhagen Accord.

“Canada’s oilsands sector remains exposed to actions by other countries seeking to limit the use of high-carbon-intensity fuels,” Asadollahi said.

“That will be the case until we implement credible policies that directly address emissions from the oilsands.”

Image Credit: Alex MacLean for the Pulitzer Center for Journalism.

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