EU committee makes no decision on Canadian oilsands
Jane Armstrong, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, February 23, 2012 10:42PM EST
A European Union plan to classify oilsands crude oil as dirtier than other forms of fuel has been blocked after key Canadian allies abstained from a crucial vote on Thursday.
The EU plan was aimed at curbing emissions from transport fuels by 10 per cent and it classified oilsands fuel as more harmful to the environment than other sources of energy.
But Britain, France and the Netherlands – countries with oil companies that have invested in Alberta's oilsands -- abstained from the vote as did Germany. The plan now goes to a committee of European ministers and another vote is planned for later in the spring.
Canada lobbied hard against the plan for months in Europe. It even threatened to take the EU to the World Trade Organization if it singled out oilsands crude as dirty.
Canada is concerned that an EU vote against oilsands crude could prompt other regions to follow suit, potentially reducing markets. The EU vote was largely symbolic as very little Canadian oil makes it to Europe.
Ottawa was relieved at the vote. "We are pleased to see that many EU countries are opposed to this discriminatory measure," Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said in a statement Thursday. Oliver criticized the science behind the EU plan.
"We are working to determine what the next steps will be. We remain strongly opposed to Canadian oil sands crude being unfairly discriminated against without scientific justification."
CTV's London correspondent Ben O'Hara-Byrne told CTV's Canada AM that the EU vote, if it passes, could have a snowball effect.
"What I think Canada wants to avoid here is having oilsands oil deemed dirtier than other forms of oil by a body as important and as influential as the European Union," O'Hara-Byrne said.
"The EU is obviously a trailblazer in many of these issues when it comes to standards. "It's a standard the rest of the world may start looking at. That could include United States. It could include other parts of the world as well."
Petroleum analyst Michael Ervin told CTV's Canada AM that Canada does not want to be seen as a dirty oil producer.
"The Canadian government does not want to see that sort of label put on Western Canadian crude coming from the oilsands," Ervin said. "That may create an initiative on the part of other countries, a precedent, to label Western Canadian crude in the same way."
The EU proposal assigns greenhouse gas emission values to different sources of fuel. Canada's key concern is that oilsands crude is placed in a separate category, with a value that's 23 per cent higher than conventional oil.
David Plunkett, Canada's ambassador to the EU, sent a letter to the EU commission for climate action that Canada, warning that Canada will not accept oilsands crude being "singled out."
He also warned that Canada will explore "every avenue" to defend its interests.
The vote on the directive came days after an analysis by a Canadian scientist found emissions from Alberta's oilsands are unlikely to make a big difference to global warming and that the real threat to the planet comes from burning coal.
Andrew Weaver, a University of Victoria professor, and his colleague Neil Swart analyzed how burning all global stocks of coal, oil and natural gas would affect temperatures.
In a paper published in the prestigious Nature journal, they found that burning all of the world's coal deposits would increase the global temperature by 15 degrees Celsius.
By contrast, if all the hydrocarbons in the oilsands were mined and consumed, the global temperatures would rise by about 0.36 degrees, according to Weaver and Swart's calculations
The EU proposal would represent another blow to Canada's Alberta oil patach.
The Keystone XL pipeline proposal, to carry oil from Alberta to Texas, was recently put in jeopardy when U.S. President Barack Obama delayed any decision on the project until after the 2012 election.
Since then Canada has focused on the possibility of a Northern Gateway pipeline, which would instead carry oil from Alberta to the West Coast, making it more accessible to customers in China.