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Canada opposes EU’s labelling of tar sands

Tar sands implicated as greater pollutant than other forms of oil extraction

After coming under fire from the Canadian government, the European Union (EU) is defending its labelling of the tar sands as 22 per cent more polluting than other forms of crude oil extraction.

This label was issued as part of the EU’s Fuel Quality Directive, a plan to reduce transportation-related carbon emissions. On October 23, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver released an open letter addressed to the EU.

In the letter, Oliver states that “Any proposed implementing measure that provides separate, more onerous treatment for oil sands derived crude oil  relative to other crude oils with similar or higher GHG emissions intensities is discriminatory, and potentially violates the European Union’s international trade obligations.”

Despite Oliver’s letter, EU Climate Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard maintains that the label is based on scientific fact, not political motivations.

“We have the knowledge and the fact that the oil sands are more CO2-polluting than other kinds of fuel,” Hedegaard said in a press conference last Thursday in Brussels. “It’s nothing targeted against this particular fuel. We are doing that with all our different biofuels. It’s the same methodology that we are applying for different things in the same directive.”

Although Canada has been supported in its opposition to the label by both the United Kingdom and Estonia, there are some Canadians who disagree with Oliver.

Gillian McEachern, Climate and Energy program manager for Environmental Defence, a Toronto-based environmental action organization, spoke to The Daily over the phone.

“Time and again scientific studies have shown the tar sands to be more polluting than other forms of crude oil extraction,” she said. “It’s really just calling a spade a spade… Minister Oliver’s letter won’t hold water.”

In his letter, Oliver wrote that the label appears to punish Canada for promoting greater transparency in its carbon emissions records.

“We object to being treated less favourably than other crude oil sources simply because Canadian industry provides more detailed data on oil sands emissions. It is not sufficient for the European Union to fail to address these data issues and base its directive on incomplete information,” he wrote.

“Holding the third largest proven reserves in the world, Canada is a stable, reliable, democratic, and an environmentally responsible supplier of oil in a global market that is otherwise subject to a range of risks and uncertainties. Any policies that impede the free flow of global oil supplies are detrimental to our collective energy security,” he continued in the letter.

According to McEachern, any political acceptance of the tar sands would defeat Canada’s aim to reduce carbon emissions.

“It’s a bit alarming to see the federal government flying around Europe, trying to bully member states into backing down,” she said.

“Emissions from the tar sands are set to triple over the next decade and the government hasn’t stepped in to make rules to stop that,” she continued.

McEachern added that provinces like Quebec and Ontario are doing better at reducing their emissions, but she still worried that Quebec will soon lose its edge on reducing carbon emissions because of the tar sands.

“Quebec has been a leader in climate, and now, because of the federal government’s actions, we are really not stepping up to the plate,” she said. “As tar sands exports have risen, our currency has become linked to the price of oil. This is causing something called Dutch Disease – a boom in one area meaning job loss in others – and Quebec is being affected by that.”