Europe wide campaign launched to keep tars sands out of the EU

14 June 2010

EU lawmakers were today (14 June) accused of watering down landmark climate change legislation in order to allow fuels derived from the controversial Canadian tar sands to be imported into Europe.

Last year the European Commission’s proposals for the Fuel Quality Directive penalised tar sands oil for emitting significantly more greenhouse gases than conventional oil, but following lobbying by the Canadian Government all reference to tar sands has been dropped.

Now a new coalition made up of The Co-operative, WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Transport and Environment, is calling upon the Commission to reverse its decision and will publicly campaign for the European Parliament to reject the proposals in the autumn.

Article 7a of the Fuel Quality Directive - Europe’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard - sets a mandatory 6% reduction target for the greenhouse gas emissions of EU transport fuels by 2020. However, by treating tar sands oil the same as conventional oil it could undermine the whole purpose of the legislation.

The extraction and production of tar sands oil is very energy intensive and emits on average three times more greenhouse gases than for conventional oil. From a lifecycle perspective (from extraction through to vehicle combustion), it has an increased greenhouse gas intensity range of between 18% and 49% compared to the proposed measurement for conventional oil contained in the Commission’s proposal.

If tar sands oil were to be reported as the same as conventional oil under the new legislation, these significantly higher emissions would not be captured and there would be nothing to restrict imports into the EU of these highly carbon intensive fuels. The coalition states this would lead to uncertainty over the EU's claimed emission reductions from transport fuels, especially if fuels derived from tar sands were to increase EU market share as is expected without intervention.

Paul Monaghan, Head of Social Goals at The Co-operative, said "With the adoption of the Fuel Quality Directive and its Low Carbon Fuel Standard the EU has sent a clear signal that transport fuels must be decarbonised. We urge the EU to implement the standard in such a way as to actually achieve this objective and ensure the most climate hostile transport fuels in commercial production today are kept out of Europe.”

WWF-UK’s head of campaigns, Colin Butfield, said: “It seems that some hard lobbying may allow one the dirtiest fuels to be imported into Europe. The extraction of tar sands has heavy environmental consequences for local people and wildlife, but it’s also a hugely expensive and energy-intensive process. We need to ensure there are specific carbon limits set for all fuels, including ones from tar sands, which producers are required to meet to help the EU reduce its carbon pollution.”

As part of its Toxic Fuels campaign, The Co-operative is also supporting cinema screenings of a new film called H2Oil on 15 June. The film powerfully illustrates the negative environmental and indigenous community impacts of tar sands exploitation and is being shown at over 20 Vue cinemas nationwide.


Additional Information

  • Canada has 175 billion barrels of proven oil reserves in tar sands deposits; this is second only to Saudi Arabia’s conventional oil reserves. Current tar sands production in Alberta, Canada, stands at 1.3 million barrels of oil per day. The Canadian Government has granted licenses to increase production to 7.0 million barrels oil per day. Every major oil company currently has operations in Canada’s tar sands, including Shell and BP.
  • Current levels of tar sands imports into the EU are low, however, the expansion of pipeline and refining infrastructure in the United States, as well as the plans of the oil industry to increase extraction in Alberta, means that without intervention there could be a significant rise in the import of tar sands-based fuels into the EU in the near future.
  • The Co-operative co-filed shareholder resolutions at the 2010 AGMs of BP and Royal Dutch Shell in April and May respectively. The resolutions called upon the companies to disclose the financial, environmental and social risks associated with tar sands exploitation, citing amongst other issues GHG intensity and anticipated regulation of GHG emissions. They attracted significant investor support with 15% and 11% opposing management respectively by either voting for or abstaining on the resolutions.
  • Oil companies expanding their tar sands operations point to increasing demand for their products. However, the International Energy Agency’s ‘World Energy Outlook 2009’ points out that a tripling of tar sands production over the next 20 years would only fit with their business-as-usual ‘reference scenario’. This scenario would lead to in excess of 1000 parts per million of atmospheric CO2 and dangerous levels of climate change with an average global temperature rise of 6OC.
  • The Co-operative has been campaigning to halt the expansion of tar sands exploitation as part of its Toxic Fuels campaign since July 2008. In addition to engaging with oil companies and politicians, it is also supporting the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, an indigenous community whose traditional territories are being destroyed by tar sands developments in violation of their constitutionally protected treaty rights. The Beaver Lake Cree have therefore commenced a legal challenge to protect their environment and halt new developments. The Co-operative has donated over £100,000 to support the challenge to date. For more information on the campaign see:
  • H2Oil is the third tar sands film The Co-operative has supported as part of its Toxic Fuels film trilogy. This follows screenings of Dirty Oil and Petropolis earlier in the year. For more information on these films see:
  • A specific default value for tar sands was included in Appendix 1 of the European Commission ‘Consultation paper on the measures necessary for the implementation of Article 7a(5)’ in 2009 ( Following lobbying by the Canadian Government, it has been removed from Appendix 1 of the latest European Commission paper on the issue; ‘Conceptual non-paper on the measures necessary for the implementation of Article 7a(5) of Directive 2009/30/EC amending Directive 98/70/EC on fuel quality’.