Oil from tar sands creates more greenhouse-gas emissions than conventional fossil fuels, according to a leaked study produced for the European Commission.
Average emissions from tar sands are 23% higher than oil from conventional fossil fuels, according to an unpublished study for the Commission seen by European Voice.
The report’s findings are expected to be used to increase the pressure on the European Commission to include tar-sands oil in an EU law on fuel quality.
The report has leaked on the day that Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioner for climate action, is meeting Karel de Gucht, her counterpart responsible for trade, to try to resolve a stand-off between their departments about how to treat tar-sands oil in the fuel quality law. (See ‘Row over green status of oil from tar sands’.)
It also coincides with a visit to Brussels by Ron Liepert, the energy minister for Alberta. The Canadian province has a daily output of 1.5 million barrels of oil. Liepert is meeting MEPs in Brussels today (3 February) to discuss Alberta’s clean energy strategies.
The EU’s 2009 fuel-quality directive requires oil companies operating in the EU to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions of fuel by 6% by 2020, compared to 2010 levels. To implement this law the Commission is in the process of assigning carbon-footprint values to fuel from different sources.
Last year the Commission missed a legal deadline to come up with these values for fuels, largely because of disagreement over how to treat tar-sands oil.
Despite the fact that virtually no oil from tar sands enters the EU market, the fuel is becoming a divisive issue for EU regulators.
Members of the European Parliament’s environment committee view the issue as a credibility test of EU climate legislation, while the Canadian government has been lobbying the EU not to “discriminate” against tar sands, fearing that EU rules could be copied by other countries.
De Gucht’s trade department is worried that the EU could face legal challenges at the World Trade Organization if it goes ahead with labelling tar-sands oil as more polluting than conventional fossil fuels. Officials at the climate action department also have concerns. Last year they decided to take longer to assign carbon-footprint values.
This latest study, by Adam Brandt, an assistant professor at Stanford University in the United States, was commissioned as part of the Commission’s investigation into carbon footprints. The study finds that average greenhouse-gas emissions for tar sands are 107.3 grams of carbon dioxide per mejajoule compared to an average of 87.1 g/CO2/MJ for conventional fuels.
This is close to the tar-sands value that the Commission came up with in an early draft – 107 CO2/MJ – which was subsequently dropped in the face of pressure from the Canadian government.
Speaking to European Voice yesterday, before the report came to light, Liepert said: “There is no evidence to discriminate against oil from oil sands by putting it in a separate category.”
“We want the world to know that what we are doing is in line with many countries around the world,” he said. “We have been the target of an environmental activist campaign that has not put all the facts on the table.”
Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, a Dutch Liberal MEP, disagreed, saying that “many reports show that the additional emissions are higher for tar sands”. The MEP called on the Commission to speed up its work, adding: “I have the feeling that there are more political reasons than scientific reasons for the delay.”
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