Dirty Oil

As well as improving the efficiency of vehicles, the world needs to reduce the emissions that result from the production of transport fuels. That means improving refinery efficiency, cleaning up the dirtiest sources like tar sands and coal-to-liquid and stopping wasteful gas flaring.

What's happening

Article 7a of the EU's 2009 Fuel Quality Directive, for the first time, obliges fuel suppliers to reduce the lifecycle greenhouse gas ‘intensity’ of transport fuel by 6% by 2020 compared with 2010. According to the directive, from 2011, suppliers were also to report to authorities designated from member states on the greenhouse gas intensity of the fuel they supply. However, implementation of such reporting clause is still pending. 

The 6% reduction can be achieved through the use of biofuels, renewable electricity and a reduction in the flaring and venting of gases at the extraction stage of fossil fuel feedstocks.

The Canadian government and oil companies have lobbied furiously against the proposal because very carbon intensive products such as fuel produced from Canadian tar sands would be obliged to clean up or otherwise be unwelcome on the EU market.  EU Member State environment ministers were supposed to vote on the proposal in June 2012, but the European Commission instead ordered a full impact assessment on the impacts of the detailed rules. As of March 2014, the FQD still hasn't been released and is over 1181 days delayed. The final implementing measures are expected after the summer of 2014, once the new Parliament is sitting. Read our briefing and get a reality check on Canada's tar sands.

Dirty oil to Europe through America's Keystone XL pipeline

Little tar sands oil comes to Europe at the moment. However, this might change if some of the pipeline projects through Canada or the US get approved, the biggest being Keystone XL - a pipeline that would bring tar sands crude from the land-locked Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. From there this dirty crude could be shipped all around the world, including Europe. Over the next two decades, the tar sands industry is considering plans to triple its production from 1.5 million barrels/day today to 4.5m, according to Canadian energy economist, Mark Jaccard.

Key statistics

EU transport emissions (2013) 25% of EU’s overall greenhouse gas emissions
The Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) The FQD requires fuel suppliers to decrease by 6% the carbon intensity of transport fuels by 2020. It achieves this by assigning different carbon values to different fuels based on their carbon intensity from extraction to end use (well to wheel).
Cost of the 2011 Commission’s FQD proposal Less than half a eurocent for a 50 litre fill up or maximum1.6 eurocents per barrel of oil.
CO2 savings from the FQD’s 6% target 50-60 million tonnes of CO2.
Are tar sands more carbon intensive than regular oil? Tar sands have greenhouse gas emissions up to 49% higher than conventional crude oil. The official Commission study concludes that tar sands are on average 23% worse than conventional crude.
Tar sands’ imports to Europe If nothing is done, European imports of tar sands are likely to rise from 4,000 barrels per day (bpd) in 2012 to over 700,000 bpd in 2020.
EU fuels’ carbon intensity increase due to tar sands’ imports With increased imports of tar sands, the greenhouse gas intensity of transport fuels in the EU is expected to increase by 1.5% in 2020.


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The Keystone XL Tar Sands Climate Threat

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