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12 Environmental Organizations Urge Closing of Potential Tar Sands Loophole in EU Draft Fuel Quality Directive

A group of 12 environmental groups has written to the EU climate action commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, warning that Article 7a of the draft Fuel Quality Directive as currently structured could “leave the European market wide open for transport fuels produced from tar sands, which have more than three times higher GHG emissions from extraction and refining compared to conventional oil.”

Article 7a of the directive says lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from transport fuels must be reduced by 6% by 2020, a move environmental NGOs welcomed when it was agreed upon two years ago.

However, the organizations point out in their letter, in developing a methodology for calculating emissions from fuel, the Commission has proposed setting just one default emissions value for oil-derived gasoline and one for diesel. Fuels produced from highly greenhouse-gas-intensive tar sands would thus be treated the same as less damaging sources of oil.

With these provisions the European Commission is contradicting the whole purpose of the Directive and seriously undermining efforts to reduce the GHG emissions from transport.

—Letter to Commissioner Hedegaard

The organizations recommended instead:

  • The introduction of a set of conservative default values for diverging GHG intensity of crude oil, including tar sands and other sources of heavy crude;

  • The introduction of the opportunity to take into account improvements in refinery efficiency;

  • Leaving opportunities for fuel suppliers to prove that they are performing better than the default values (by investing in better technology, reducing flaring, switching to cleaner fuels, etc.);

  • Introducing accurate, robust and mandatory reporting systems for the carbon intensity of oil down to the project level. While such reporting will inevitably be incomplete in the beginning, they said, it needs to start now in order to create the necessary transparency for future reviews of the law.

The 12 organizations are: Transport & Environment; National Resources Defense Council; Bird life International; European Environmental Bureau; Friends of the Earth Europe; Sierra Club US and Canada; The Pembina Institute; WWF European Policy Office; Climate Action Network Canada; Environmental Defence Canada; National Wildlife Federation; and Friends of the Earth US.



The much higher pollution factor (3X) from tar sand extracted fuel has been known for decades but not much as been done to address the problem. It is a lot like the tobacco related problems in the latter part of the last century.

The In Situ method could improve the process but would require more heat energy and could increase extraction cost and lower operators profits. It may not be widely used unless mandated.

Beside huge GHG emissions, current tar sands activities are creating a enormous ground pollution problems that will effect all living creatures and plants in the area for decades if not centuries.

Currently, almost 100% of the fuel extracted from Alberta's tar sands is exported to USA at the rate of about 2.5 million barrels a day. As much could be exported to China by 2020 if the transition to electrified vehicles is delayed.


With cap n trade dead in the US - it's doubtful any such GHG measures will ever matter. Far more effective in limiting petro use is to focus on the conservation of land; real pollution at tar sands sites, and cost of cleanup post sands exploitation.


Big oil has convinced the local and Federal current governments that tar sands activities are very clean and do no produce excessive pollution.
The local government has been riding the wave for 20+ years and the twin Fed party in power is learning quickly how to do the same. This approach of hiding facts could last one and even two more decades. Decreasing USA oil demands may be an effective way to send a wake-up call.

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