• European Commission buries new data on tar sand impacts

    Canadian pressure for u-turn on EU clean fuel law A scientific report (1) for the European Commission, published online yesterday and then immediately withdrawn, has confirmed that carbon emissions from Canadian tar sand oil production are 'significantly higher than...industry-average emissions from conventional fuels'.

    [mailchimp_signup][/mailchimp_signup]In 2008, the EU agreed a law setting a 10% greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction target for the extraction and production of transport fuels. The law is designed to provide an incentive for the oil industry to use more environmentally friendly fuel sources and clean up extraction and processing techniques. But the details of how that target should be met are only being discussed now as part of a behind-closed-doors ‘comitology’ process.

    The Canadian government has been putting huge pressure on the European Commission not to treat tar sand oil production differently, despite its higher emissions. The Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper discussed the issue with Commission President José Manuel Barroso last year, just one of countless high level lobbying meetings involving Canadian officials, oil industry figures and European policymakers.

    The European Commission has repeatedly refused to grant access to minutes of those meetings as well as briefing notes and other documents related to the Canadian lobby effort. T&E will today ask the European Ombudsman to rule on the case under EU access to documents legislation. Yesterday’s withdrawal of a key scientific report suggests further political manipulation of the process of implementing a key piece of EU climate legislation.

    Canada wants the EU to apply the same carbon emissions ‘default value’ to tar sands that it applies to conventional oil production, despite the significantly higher emissions that result from extraction and processing of tar sand oil.

    The study withdrawn yesterday says typical tar sand ‘well-to-wheel’ emissions are 23% worse than those for typical conventional oil sources (107.3 grammes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per megajoule of energy vs 87.1 grammes).

    In a public consultation on the issue published in July 2009, the EU also cited a near-identical figure of 107g CO2/mj for tar sand oil. But a March 2010 draft of the ‘implementing measures’ for the law removed all reference to a separate value for tar sands, though did contain separate values for other carbon intensive sources such as coal-to-liquid and gas-to-liquid fuel products. The removal of the figure from the draft implementing measures followed high-profile interventions from the Canadian government in January 2010.

    Nusa Urbancic, policy officer at Transport & Environment, said “The Commission has said previously that scientific data was needed in order to establish the CO2 figures for tar sand oil. The data was available already from a wide variety of sources; but now the Commission has its own data there is no excuse for delaying further action.”

    “Tar sand oil extraction and production is one of the dirtiest methods of fuel production known to man. If the EU is serious about cutting transport emissions is makes sense to treat dirty sources of oil differently. The EU’s clean fuel rules, agreed over two years ago, won’t be worth the paper they’re written on as long as tar sands are portrayed as no different to conventional oil sources.”

    (1) Upstream greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from Canadian oil sands as a feedstock for European refineries, Adam R. Brandt, Department of Energy Resources Engineering, Stanford University, January 2011.