Screen-Shot-2014-05-28-at-7.38.42-PM.png

Oilsands in the EU: European Union Receives its First Bitumen Shipment Today

Today an oil tanker carrying between 500,000 and 600,000 barrels of western Canadian oilsands (also called tarsands) bitumen arrives in Bilbao, a port city in northern Spanish. It is the first shipment of Canadian bitumen to the European Union and a sign the federal government’s “pan European oilsands advocacy strategy” is succeeding.

“This shipment could open the door to more imports of dirty tarsands," says Franziska Achterberg of Greenpeace from Brussels. "Europe can’t be both a climate champion and a market for climate-wrecking tar sands. The EU must uphold its environmental credentials and stand up to the intense lobbying by the oil industry and the Canadian government."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has been lobbying the EU since 2009 to keep its markets open to bitumen. Internal documents have shown the federal government has used its embassies in Europe “to protect and advance Canadian interests related to the oil sands.”  

EU Could Lose Credibility As World's Climate Leader

The European Union has set ambitious but necessary targets to reduce its production of global-warming greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 (based on 1990 levels). No other developed country including Canada has even come close to matching this. If the EU continues to import more bitumen it will undermine its credibility as a world leader on climate change, experts say.

“The landing of massive amounts of dirty tar sands to our shores runs counter to Europe’s stated aspirations to decarbonize transport and curtail its addiction to oil. European drivers will be forced to fill up their tanks with tar sands that will raise emissions – not lower them – and push up the costs of decarbonization by billions of euros,” says Laura Buffet of Transport & Environment.

Fives Years On, Fuel Quality Directive Still Not Implemented

For years, the EU has wanted to pass legislation encouraging European transport fuel suppliers to decrease the carbon footprint of their product. The Fuel Quality Directive confirms fuels produced from bitumen have a higher carbon footprint (12 to 40 per cent higher) than fuels from conventional oil. Because bitumen is a heavy unconventional tar-like oil it requires vastly more energy to extract and process, resulting in more greenhouse gases than conventional oil.

The Fuel Quality Directive would be a disincentive for purchasing highly polluting fuels, such as oilsands. Fearing a “dirty oil” label being slapped on Canadian bitumen if the Fuel Quality Directive is passed, the Canadian government has lobbied against it in a manner one EU politician describes as something never seen before:

“There have been massive lobbying campaigns by the car industry, by the chemicals industry, banks, food giants, etc. But so far I have not seen such a lobbying campaign by any state,” Satu Hassi, a Finnish Member of European Parliament told Reuters in 2012 about the Canadian lobbying against the directive.

7% of EU's Fuel Supply Could be Bitumen by 2020

With the Fuel Quality Directive still in limbo (the last vote on the directive ended in a stalemate), Spanish oil company Repsol’s bitumen shipment will most likely not be the last. Repsol has reportedly been investing in upgrading its refineries to process heavy bitumen. Much like Canada, very few refineries in the EU have the necessary refining equipment to turn bitumen into fuels.

“To the refiner, it’ll just be the price you can get and the product you get after refining it, so they wouldn’t care what the source is. They wouldn’t think about the carbon content at all,” Torbjørn Kjus, an oil analyst at DNB Markets told the RTCC news service.

A report earlier this year by the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates bitumen could make up nearly seven per cent of the EU’s total transport fuel supply by 2020 if oilsands pipeline projects such as Keystone XL in the U.S. and Energy East from Alberta to Saint John, N.B., are approved. Combined, the two TransCanada pipelines could pump approximately two million barrels of bitumen every day. Much of this will be exported out of North America.

Image Credit: Transport Canada

Hey there keener,
Thanks for being an avid reader of our in-depth journalism, which is read by millions and made possible thanks to more than 4,200 readers just like you.

The Narwhal's growing team is hitting the ground running in 2022 to tell stories about the natural world that go beyond doom-and-gloom headlines — and we need your support.

Our model of independent, non-profit journalism means we can pour resources into doing the kind of environmental reporting you won’t find anywhere else in Canada, from investigations that hold elected officials accountable to deep dives showcasing the real people enacting real climate solutions.

There’s no advertising or paywall on our website (we believe our stories should be free for all to read), which means we count on our readers to give whatever they can afford each month to keep The Narwhal’s lights on.

The amazing thing? Our faith is being rewarded. We hired 14 new staff over the past year and won a boatload of awards for our features, our photography and our investigative reporting.

With your help, we’ll be able to do so much more in 2022. If you believe in the power of independent journalism, join our pod by becoming a Narwhal today. (P.S. Did you know we’re able to issue charitable tax receipts?)
Hey there keener,
Thanks for being an avid reader of our in-depth journalism, which is read by millions and made possible thanks to more than 4,200 readers just like you.

The Narwhal's growing team is hitting the ground running in 2022 to tell stories about the natural world that go beyond doom-and-gloom headlines — and we need your support.

Our model of independent, non-profit journalism means we can pour resources into doing the kind of environmental reporting you won’t find anywhere else in Canada, from investigations that hold elected officials accountable to deep dives showcasing the real people enacting real climate solutions.

There’s no advertising or paywall on our website (we believe our stories should be free for all to read), which means we count on our readers to give whatever they can afford each month to keep The Narwhal’s lights on.

The amazing thing? Our faith is being rewarded. We hired seven new staff over the past year and won a boatload of awards for our features, our photography and our investigative reporting.

With your help, we’ll be able to do so much more in 2022. If you believe in the power of independent journalism, join our pod by becoming a Narwhal today. (P.S. Did you know we’re able to issue charitable tax receipts?)

Letters reveal what energy companies told RCMP before Wet’suwet’en raid

In late April, RCMP officers walked into the Gidimt’en Camp near the confluence of Ts'elkay Kwe (Lamprey Creek) and Wedzin Kwa (Morice River). Their visits...

Continue reading

Recent Posts

Help us publish three ambitious investigations
Help us publish three ambitious investigations
Get The Narwhal in your inbox!
People always tell us they love our newsletter. Find out yourself with a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism
Get The Narwhal in your inbox!
People always tell us they love our newsletter. Find out yourself with a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism
We’re on a mission to add 500 new members in May so we can pull off three more ambitious investigations this year — and we’re nearly halfway there! Will you join the thousands of readers who make The Narwhal possible?
‘These are the stories that need to be told’
We’re on a mission to add 500 new members in May so we can pull off three more ambitious investigations this year — and we’re nearly halfway there! Will you join the thousands of readers who make The Narwhal possible?
‘These are the stories that need to be told’