Commission recognises climate impact of unconventional oil in fuel quality directive

October 26, 2011

Petrol and diesel made from tar sands, coal, gas and oil shale will be assigned a different carbon footprint than fuels from conventional oil, if a proposal from the Commission is supported by EU member states. After years of lobbying by Canada and some sections of the oil industry, the Commission has stuck to its original plan to assign different values to fuels dependent on their source. The values are needed as part of EU efforts to reduce the climate impact of fuel production by 6% by 2020.

Article 7a of the Fuel Quality Directive, proposed in 2008 and agreed a year later, sets the target of a 6% reduction in climate-changing emissions from the fuel production process by 2020, based on the level in 2010. In order to achieve that, it has to set ‘values’ for each fuel depending on the carbon intensity of the extraction process. Conventional fuels produced from crude oil have a value of 87.5 grams of carbon per megajoule of energy.

Most other fuels had been given their value by the end of last year, but fierce lobbying from oil interests in the Canadian state of Alberta, which has huge tar sands reserves, led to a delay in setting a standard for that source. Very little oil from these sources is currently used in Europe, but Alberta was worried that a high-emissions value from the EU would set a precedent that would reduce the market for its oil in the future.

At one stage the Commission was considering giving oil from tar sands the same value as conventional fuels, but following loud protests from MEPs, NGOs and private citizens, it has now reverted to its original plan. It will therefore assign oil from tar sands a value of 107g CO2/MJ and oil from shale 131.5g CO2/MJ.

T&E director Jos Dings said: ‘This move sends a signal to the oil industry that dirty fuels should either clean up or stay away. In particular, the climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard should be applauded for not backing down in the face of huge pressure from Canada and the oil industry. It’s now up to member states to give this proposal the green light, and thereby give producers a real incentive to invest in cleaner technologies and stop dirty habits such as flaring.’

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