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Tar sands in Alberta (Photo: Howl Arts Collective / Flickr Creative Commons)

Tar sands in Alberta (Photo: Howl Arts Collective / Flickr Creative Commons)

EU Gets Ready To Open Canadian Tar Sands Floodgate

Despite protest, lawmakers poised to give legislative handout to industry that peddles one of world's dirtiest fossil fuels

Sarah Lazare

After years of lobbying to break into European markets, Canada's tar sands oil industry is poised to score a victory from EU lawmakers who have signaled willingness to drop a requirement that labels tar sands oil as dirtier than other fossil fuels.

The EU agreed five years ago to a piece of climate legislation called the 'Fuel Quality Directive,' which was to go into effect in 2010 with the aim of cutting transport fuel emissions by 6 percent by 2020. Yet thanks to heavy industry lobbying and government stalling, the plan still has not gone into effect years later.

Both the Financial Times and Reuters reported Thursday that the EU is likely to weaken the language of the not-yet-implemented plan by scrapping a requirement that bitumen—oil extracted from tar sands—be labeled as high-emissions diesel. The higher rating would have discouraged, but not prevented, imports.

A draft document drawn up by the European Commission will, if implemented, allow companies to sidestep penalties on tar sands imports. "Under the new methodology, companies would only have to make their emission cuts based on EU averages for the 'output' fuels – the petrol or diesel – regardless of whether it was originally made from heavy crude or not," the Financial Times explains.

One of the world's dirtiest fossil fuels, bitumen produces up to five times more carbon than conventional crude oil. The extraction process is extremely energy-intensive, destructive to ecosystems, and creates large reservoirs of toxic waste. Environmental groups have argued that proposed regulations in previous drafts of the Fuel Quality Directive were already too lax, and that  tar sands should simply stay in the ground.

The government of Canada and the oil industry have aggressively opposed potential EU penalties on bitumen imports, and Canada's Natural Resources Minister pressed the issue in sideline conversations at the G7 meetings in Rome last month, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, environmental protesters rallied this week against what is believed to be the first large shipment of bitumen to Europe, which arrived in Spain from Canada.

"Tar sands are deadly for our climate and must be kept in the ground and out of Europe," said Colin Roche of Friends of the Earth in a statement about the delivery. "To give a lifeline to this dangerous industry is to set us up for climate disaster." 

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