The Canadian government has been accused of an "unprecedented" lobbying effort involving 110 meetings in less than two years in Britain and Europe in a bid to derail new fuel legislation that could hit exports from its tar sands.
The allegation comes from Friends of the Earth Europe (FoEE), which claims Ottawa ministers have attempted to mislead European decision-makers by underplaying the carbon-heavy nature of their crude in assessing new petrol standards.
Canada is worried that proposed European legislation would penalise imports of oil derived from its tar sands and so restrict access to the European market for Canadian oil. This might in turn embolden US legislators to do similar. To prevent this, FoEE says that Ottawa has been conducting an intensive lobbying campaign aimed at preventing the British government and the European commission from watering down the legislation.
"The Canadian government must disclose the genuine GHG [greenhouse gas] footprint of tar sands and stop making false promises. It should take serious measures to address the negative nature of tar sands," recommends FoEE in a new report entitled Canada's dirty lobby diary - undermining the EU fuel quality directive.
The lobbying effort, which includes dozens of meetings between Canadian and British government "representatives" and oil executives, was triggered by the release of a consultation document in July 2009 by the European commission, which attempted to definitively assess the "well-to-wheels" carbon intensity of different oils.
The document attributed a "default" carbon value for traditional fuels of 85.8g of carbon dioxide per mega joule of energy for traditional oil and 107gCO2/MJ for fuel derived from tar sands.
The Canadians have managed to delay the EU's original deadline of January 2011 for confirming baseline default values despite new peer-reviewed studies to support the European position.
Darek Urbaniak, extractives campaign coordinator at Friends of the Earth Europe, said: "It is unprecedented that a government of one of the most developed countries can devise and implement a strategy that involves undermining independent science and deliberate misleading of its international partners."
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"The Canadians are asking for further research and further delays. This tactic is reminiscent of the tobacco industry in its attempt to delay action on health," said the FoEE report.
Relatively little fuel from the Alberta tar sands currently ends up in Britain or on the continent, but the Canadians have made clear their real concern is that European legislation will encourage the US to take a tougher line.
A pan-European oil sands advocacy plan was established by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade last year. The main aims were to protect and advance Canadian interests in Europe and to ensure "non-discriminatory market access for oil sands-derived products", according to documents seen by FoEE.
The Canadians are also said to have set up a special lobbying team in London and identified Shell and BP - two big tar sands investors - as "like-minded allies" in the struggle to have tar sands accepted.
Shell's chief executive, Peter Voser, made clear last week at the company's half yearly financial results that tar sands was one of the key areas of the business that was delivering production growth - both now and more in future. BP has also made no secret of its determination to pursue its interests in Alberta.
But FoEE is angry because it believes the Canadians are deliberately marketing tar sands as an environmentally friendly product by making references to initiatives - such as carbon capture and storage - to reduce the CO2 emissions. During the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the Canadian government spoke out about the safer operations in Alberta while the country's democratic credentials have been compared with less savoury regimes where oil is extracted, argues FoEE.
"The overriding message is that Canada is not exporting dirty oil, but clean energy. One of the dirtiest fuels on the planet is being sold as clean, stable and secure."
The Canadian government was contacted by the Guardian but did not comment.