Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

EU to tackle Canadian tar sands in new law -sources

EU to tackle Canadian tar sands in new law -sources
Wed Feb 23, 2011 3:20pm GMT

By Pete Harrison and Juliane von Reppert-Bismarck BRUSSELS, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Europe's trade and climate chiefs are preparing to take a stand against imports of oil from Canada's polluting tar sands, despite fears the move might wreck a multi-billion dollar trade deal, according to EU sources and documents.

European Union sources said this week that Canada had threatened to pull out of trade talks because of the clash, but Ottawa has denied that. [ID:nLDE71H14V]

Canada says draft EU standards to promote greener fuels will harm a possible future market for its oil sands -- tar-like oil that is trapped in sediment and forms the world's second-largest proven oil reserves after Saudi Arabia's.

Last year the European Union appeared to back down on the issue, putting commerce ahead of a strategy to curb greenhouse gases from transport fuels by 6 percent this decade.

But EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht and climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard have spent months checking the robustness of methodology to measure the carbon footprint of fuels and are close to taking a stand on those that are the most carbon-intensive, according to internal EU documents and sources.

"We're constructively working on a solution between the two teams, and there is a political assessment that this should be done as soon as possible," said one EU source.

The thinking behind that assessment is revealed in a series of documents that were written last year but only released last week after freedom-of-information laws were invoked.

One EU official said that backing down on tar sands would "undermine the credibility" of Hedegaard's team and politically would be "a highly dangerous route for the commissioner to proceed down".


Environmentalists oppose the tar sands industry, saying the extra energy needed to extract oil from the north Alberta sands intensifies climate damage, while polluted waste water harms wildlife and rivers. [ID:nN21169598] [ID:nN19206418]

Canadian officials have questioned the robustness of the EU methodology.

One EU official reported in a briefing note that Hedegaard stood her ground in a meeting with parliamentarians.

"The commissioner took the following line: 'It is not about whether or not to include a specific value for tar sands. I have taken the political decision that there needs to be a specific value as quickly as possible'," the official reported.

"The only open question now is how quickly ... The methodology needs to be sound."

Canada has challenged the EU at the World Trade Organization in various disputes such as over hormone-treated beef, genetically modified foods and seal products. [ID:nN11157080]

EU sources say they expect it to mount a challenge on tar sands as well.

Another document showed that De Gucht's team advised that the EU could win a Canadian legal challenge as long as the approach to tar sands is based on solid science, proves an environmental imperative, applies equally to "dirty fuels" such as those from oil shale in EU member Estonia and is reviewed as new evidence emerges.

The documents also show a division last year between De Gucht's and Hedegaard's teams about whether strong evidence could be collated before 2012, but EU sources say that has now been resolved in favour of decisive action now.

"We have to be careful not to pursue a goodwill policy that will punish tar sands based on public opinion rather than solid science," said one EU source.

The Commission had initially proposed that tar sands be ascribed a greenhouse gas value of 107 grams per megajoule of fuel, making it clear to buyers that it had far greater environmental impact than average crude oil at 87.1 grams.

The latest EU research, published this month, backs that up.

"The science has been clear for a long time, and the Commission has now confirmed that with its own studies, so now there are no more excuses for not acting," said Nusa Urbancic at green transport campaign group T&E.

(Writing by Pete Harrison, editing by Jane Baird)


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