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Europeans Say No to Tar Sands Oil

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz

Posted April 20, 2010

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Today a letter went from 17 Members of the European Parliament to the European Commission in protest of tar sands oil. This is the second letter protesting tar sands oil coming from Parliamentarians in the past half year and it shows a growing concern that Europe not open its doors to this higher carbon intensity fuel.

Today’s letter focuses on the European Fuel Quality Directive which sets up a framework for Europe to clean up its transportation fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is similar to what California did with the low carbon fuel standard. However, both in Europe and in California the success of the law will depend on how it is put into practice. The Parliamentarians rightly say that to be effective, the fuel standard needs to take into account that fuels of different carbon intensities cannot all be lumped together. Europeans want to know if their fuel is coming from higher-carbon intensity sources such as tar sands or oil shale. The letter from Parliamentarians follows an earlier letter showing that the European environmental community joins with U.S. and Canadian environmental groups in recognizing the dangers of tar sands oil.

The Parliamentarian letter also rightly notes that without being able to distinguish among the carbon intensity of fuels, Europe will end up negating emissions savings coming from low carbon alternative fuels and other climate legislation. European Parliamentarians will continue the debate over tar sands oil on May 5 in a Brussels forum “Tar sands – undermining EU climate ambitions? This is the right question to be asking. Tar sands imports are already undermining U.S. clean energy and climate goals. If the United States increases tar sands imports by 3 million barrels per day, this would increase the carbon in the fuel supply by 3.4%. The increasing import of tar sands oil to the United States could offset all the gains made under the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard.

Despite increasing public scrutiny and outrage in Europe, oil companies are fighting hard to stay entrenched in our fuel supply. Just last December, a group of 11 European Members of Parliament wrote to the leaders of four European oil companies (Shell, Statoil, BP and Total) to stop producing oil from Canadian tar sands.  Norwegian Statoil has already been under scrutiny in last year’s elections for its role in tar sands oil extraction. More recently, investors have voiced their displeasure with British Petroleum’s tar sands investments.

And Canada, the source of tar sands oil, seems to be teaming up with the oil companies.  Over the last year, Canada has written to the European Commission asking that tar sands be treated like any other oil – grossly downplaying the significant lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of tar sands. Canada did the same thing in California, writing to the Governor and openly threatening trade repercussions should the California low carbon fuel standard acknowledge the higher lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of fuels such as tar sands.

“The EU should send a clear signal now that it is serious about its climate commitment and about the decarbonisation of transport fuel,” today’s letter states. That means making sure that tar sands oil imports are held to a rigorous and transparent scrutiny so that consumers can decide if tar sands oil is worth the high cost in greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, water pollution, wildlife habitat destruction, and destruction of Boreal forests and wetlands – one of the world’s great remaining carbon reservoirs.

Seventeen Members of the European Parliament signed this letter. And they come from a range of parties and countries throughout the region. Good for them taking a stand for clean energy and against dirty fuels such as tar sands. The European Commission should listen.

You can find the text of today's letter at:


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Government of AlbertaApr 20 2010 12:33 PM

It is our responsibility to address the environmental impacts of energy development, and we take it seriously. The Government of Alberta strongly urges readers of this blog to examine the claims in this letter, and this blog post. Links below show the actual impacts:

On air pollution: “Despite ongoing development, it is apparent that there is little or no pattern to the changes in concentrations of various air pollutants across the oil sands region during the past 10 years.” – University of Alberta Department of Public Health Services, April 2010:

On biodiversity: “The habitat is 97% intact.... A pristine area with little evidence of human impact is 100% intact. An urban parking lot surrounded by big box stores is 0% intact....” University of Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute, report on oil sands region, December 2009:

On water pollution: “Generally, water quality was similar between stations located within and outside oil sands development and when compared to conditions prior to development.” – Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program, 2009 Community Report

On GHG emissions from oil sands: “Synthetic crude oil is only about 15–20 per cent more CO2-intensive on a life-cycle basis than conventional crude, even without CCS, and has essentially the same CO2 intensity with CCS.” Rand Corporation, 2008:

- David Sands, for the Government of Alberta

Susan SmittenApr 20 2010 02:09 PM

Here are some other numbers to consider:

Published by: Institute for Policy Studies Sustainable Energy
and Economy Network

"As Canada begins to exploit the dirtiest fossil fuels in the world, tar sands, there are some Canadians who are proposing that this exploitation be and its climate impacts be “offset” by the protection of forests or the damming of rivers. However, Canada’s forests are vulnerable to infestation by the pine beetle, one consequence of warmer winters due to climate change. And Canada’s rivers and groundwater is being polluted by the exploitation of the tar sands."

Location of one of the largest hydrocarbon deposit ever discovered: Athabasca tar sands1

Barrels of recoverable bitumen in Athabasca tar sands: 175 to 200 billion2

Estimated barrels of potential bitumen in Canada’s tar sands: 1.75-2 trillion3

Number one exporter of oil to U.S.: Canada4

Tons of earth required to produce 1 barrel of oil from tar sands: At least 25

Quantity of water required to produce one barrel of synthetic oil from tar
sands: at least 3 barrels

Quantity of water used per year by Canadian tar sands: approximately 176 million cubic metres of water or about one third of the City of Toronto’s annual consumption in 20086.

Canada’s annual greenhouse gas emissions 2007: 747,041 gigatons7

Share of global greenhouse gas emissions that Canada emits: About 2.2%

Amount Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions have increased from 1990-2005: 25%8

Primary source of the increase in emissions: Alberta’s tar sands9

Share of Earth’s forests found in boreal region: One-third

Share of carbon in the terrestrial biome stored in the boreal region: 30%10

Percent of boreal forest threatened by climate change: 65%

Quantity of Canada’s boreal forest that the Canadian Boreal Initiative proposes to be set aside to “offset” emissions from the tar sands: 50%

Percent of British Columbia’s mature pine that are infested with pine beetle and expected to be dead by 2013: 8311

Expected temperature rise in boreal region and Northern latitudes: 10 degrees C, 18 degrees F12

Oil companies involved in tar sands: Suncor, Syncrude, Imperial Oil, Conoco-Phillips, Canadian Oil Sands Quest Ltd., Petro-Canada, AEC Oil Sands Partnership, Mocal Energy, Murphy Oil, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, Nexen, Statoil, BP and many more.

Number of rivers that are not protected from proposals for privatization, damming, and carbon offsets in Canada: About 600

Total rivers in British Columbia: About 700

Price that oil must reach per barrel in order to make tar sands competitive: Approximately $35

Amount of energy that is required to extract one unit of energy from tar sands: Approximately 1:3


Wilfred CamilleriApr 22 2010 12:34 PM

17 out of over 700 MEPs hardly sounds like a convincing endorsement! How can you claim that "Europeans Say No to Tar Sands Oil" with this sort of percentage? What "increasing public scrutiny and outrage in Europe" are you talking about? Is this based on the 2% of the MEPs who wrote the letter?

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