Oil lobbyists trying to weaken law which would keep tar sands out of Europe

Posted by jamie — 3 August 2010 at 3:04pm - Comments

The BP stations we closed down last week have all long since opened again but the effects our thirst for oil is having on the planet continue. The oil spill in the Gulf is now officially the largest accidental spill ever, and the environmental havoc being wrought in China, Nigeria and elsewhere doesn't get the same news coverage but is just as disastrous.

Meanwhile, lobbyists working for BP and other oil pushers are busy trying to hobble laws and legislation which could set us on the road to reducing our oil dependency and making the transition to a cleaner energy future. One such piece of legislation is the Fuel Quality Directive and if its full potential is realised, it could prevent fuels from dirty sources like tar sands being sold in Europe.

The FQD, as it's fondly known at Greenpeace HQ, is a piece of legislation passed last year by the European Parliament and covers various issues surrounding the use of fuel in the EU. There's an opportunity to use this as a stepping stone on the road to moving beyond oil, and the bit we're currently interested in is the section which sets an obligation for transport fuel suppliers to reduce the emissions from producing and refining fuel by six per cent by 2020.

This is about the emissions released by getting the fuel out of the ground and into the pump, not the emissions generated when it's actually used, but even so this could have a huge impact.

For one thing, it would improve the efficiency of the production process, which has to be a good thing. Plus, it would mean imports of fuels with high production emissions into the EU would effectively be penalised, which could lead to a shift away from the dirtiest, most polluting and destructive fuels like those from tar sands, which is three times more polluting as the average barrel of crude oil.

The question mark in all this currently hangs over how this legislation will be implemented. It works by giving fuels a greenhouse gas value based on the emissions generated in production and refining, meaning fuel from tar sands could, if the EU chose, have a high value while, say, fuels from more conventional sources would have a low value. This would make tar sands fuels extremely unattractive as part of the European fuel mix and would effectively be shut out of a very lucrative market.

Fuel companies like BP think otherwise. What they want is to have just two greenhouse gas values - one for petrol and one for diesel - and these would effectively be an average of the values for all fuel sources on the market, irrespective of how the fuel is produced.

Without specific values for the dirtiest fuels like tar sands, there'll be no incentive to remove emissions-intensive fuel sources from the overall enegy mix, which is why fuel companies are lobbying hard to get their version of the proposals implemented. There's a similar battle going on in the US as well where high-carbon industries have so far failed to overturn legislation in California which aims to slash the Golden State's emissions by the end of the decade, and rollout across the other 49 states is being considered.

Europe is the second biggest oil consumer after the US so what happens here will send clear signals around the global about which way oil demand is heading. Luckily, options are still being considered by the European Commission - they won't be making a decision until the autumn so we can still influence the outcome.

If the UK and other member states pressure the commission to make the implementation of the Fuel Quality Directive as effective as possible, we'll have a Europe-wide law which restricts imports of the most damaging fuels like those from tar sands. You can make it happen - email transport minister Theresa Villiers now asking her to support this.

About Jamie

I'm a forests campaigner working mainly on Indonesia. My personal mumblings can be found @shrinkydinky.

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