Long-awaited fuel quality rules will ‘fail to halt dirty oil’

The Commission finally published rules to implement the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) last month, but environmental campaigners say they will fail to discourage oil companies from using and investing in higher-polluting oil such as tar sands and coal-to-liquid.

Adopted in 2009, article 7a of the FQD obliges fuel suppliers in Europe to cut the GHG intensity of road transport fuels by 6% by 2020 compared to 2010 baseline. At the time of its enactment, it lacked rules on how to account for emissions from different oil sources, which represent 95% of the EU’s transport fuel market, and electricity. This meant that the enacted target could only be met with biofuels.

The hiatus over implementing the FQD has been ongoing since January 2011, when the Commission missed its initial deadline for publishing the implementing rules. When it did produce a proposal, member states failed to adopt it in 2012 under the complex comitology procedure. This first proposal contained a requirement for each company to report the share of unconventional fuels placed on the EU market and take their higher carbon intensity into account. The proposal included higher carbon intensity values for tar sands, oil shale, coal-to-liquid and gas-to-liquid.

Then began an intense 32-month lobbying period when oil companies, as well as the Canadian and US governments, waged a campaign with ‘no equal’, according to German Socialist MEP Jo Leinen. The Commission was required by law to produce new rules ‘as soon as possible’, but Mr Leinen told Canada’s Globe and Mail that the lobbyists’ success in blocking progress prompted ‘doubts about the integrity/reliability/autonomy of the Commission itself’. 

The Commission finally released a revised proposal last month. Contrary to the 2011 proposal, fuel suppliers would just use one single EU average value for oil (one for petrol and one for diesel), whether their products originate from high-carbon crude like tar sands or not. This means that it would not discourage the use of high-carbon oil.

Despite this weakening, T&E noted that the proposed new implementing measures will encourage the use of electricity in transport and incentivise a cut in emissions from highly-polluting processes such as venting and flaring.

Campaigners also said the mandating of oil companies to report the origin of their oil by using trade names was another small positive step, bringing some transparency to the industry.

As well as being almost entirely dependent on oil, transport emits 31% of the EU’s total CO2 emissions and will become the biggest source of GHG emissions soon after 2020. 

T&E energy programme manager, Nusa Urbancic, said: ‘After a five-year siege by Canadian officials and industry lobbyists, the EU is letting oil corporations off the hook. That is not just a tragedy for the climate; excusing the oil industry from carbon reduction efforts is unfair, inefficient, and costly as well.’

‘After the EU Council gives its verdict on the proposed implementing rules, we will likely end up with a very flawed law that won’t deliver on its original objectives of discouraging high-carbon fuel investment. Despite that, we need to implement it. Starting post-2020 work with a basic tracking system in place is better than nothing.’