Tar sands, heavy crudes, and the EU Fuel Quality Directive

The European Union’s Fuel Quality Directive currently proposes to assign a default emissions value to natural bitumen (best known as tar sands) that is higher than the value for conventional crude oil, in recognition of the increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions resulting from the extraction, processing and combustion of tar sands.

The report conducted by Canandian environmental organisation, The Pembina Institute, shows that there is a very clear distinction between the GHG intensities of natural bitumen and conventional crudes in the vast majority of production. The life cycle GHG emissions intensity (emissions per unit energy from “well to wheel”) of tar sands ranges from around 12 to 40 per cent higher than the average intensity of conventional fuels used by Europeans. On average, all conventional crudes (with the exception of a tiny fraction of them) have consistently lower emissions intensities than the average oilsands. Even when comparing the tar sands with a subset of the heaviest crudes entering Europe or sources with high levels of illegal or unregulated flaring, there is a clear difference between averages. Given this clear distinction, the treatment of ‘natural bitumen’ as a separate crude is well justified.