Nobel laureates demand Commission action on tar sands

Twenty-one Nobel prize winners have urged the EU to immediately implement the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) which would label tar sands as dirtier than other fuels. ‘The extraction of unconventional fuels – such as oil sands and oil shale – is having a particularly devastating impact on climate change,’ wrote the laureates in a letter to European commissioners and environment ministers earlier this month.

The powerful letter has attempted to restart the discussion about how tar sands and oil shale should be treated in the EU, a discussion that has been stalled following a massive lobbying campaign by Canada, the US and the global oil industry. The lobbyists want to stop the EU valuing fuels from unconventional oil sources differently from those made from conventional crude oil.
 
The FQD was adopted in 2009 and sets a target of a 6% reduction in the carbon intensity of fuels used for transport by 2020. To achieve that, it has to set values for CO2 emissions from different fuel production processes. Conventional oil has been given a value of 87.5g of CO2 equivalent per megajoule. Following an assessment of the production process of unconventional fuels, tar sands oil has a value of 107g, oil shale 131g and coal-to-liquid 172g. Yet a Commission proposal on how to implement the FQD has been delayed because of lobbying. 
 
The laureates quote International Energy Agency warnings that unconventional fuel sources are especially damaging to the environment and climate, and its calculation that two-thirds of known fossil-fuel reserves must be left in the ground ‘to avoid catastrophic climate change’. Their letter adds: ‘The time for positive action is now. The European Union can demonstrate clear and unambiguous leadership by upholding its climate principles.'
 
An unpublished impact assessment prepared for the Commission is believed to say applying higher values to unconventional fuels would have only a tiny effect on the fuel prices paid by motorists. The European news agency EurActiv quoted an unnamed Commission official as saying that ‘pump price impacts for all production methods are roughly the same at substantially less than one cent per litre’.
 
T&E clean fuels manager Nusa Urbancic said: ‘There isn’t much fuel from unconventional sources in Europe at present, but the battle is over what signal the EU sends to the world about how the climate impact of a fuel’s production process will be assessed. Canada is lobbying so hard, because it wants key oil markets like Europe to keep ignoring that the production of tar sands is essentially dirtier than conventional fuels. If Europe is serious about decarbonising its transport energy, it shouldn’t listen to the siren voices on the other side of the pond.’