* Climate commissioner hails victory against lobbyists
* EU ministers expected to decide in June
* Canada says will not hesitate to defend its interests
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, Feb 23 Years of lobbying over a
draft EU rule that would label fuel from tar sands as dirtier
than that from other oil sources reached an impasse on Thursday,
prompting both opponent Canada and environmentalists to declare
A committee of technical experts was unable to deliver a
decisive vote either way on the European executive's proposal to
tag oil sands as carbon intensive as part of its efforts to curb
Canada, home to massive oil reserves most of which are in
the form of very heavy crude known as tar sands or oil sands,
has challenged the EU proposal, saying it is discriminatory and
could damage trade ties.
Thursday's vote at a closed-door meeting of technical
experts failed to reach a qualified majority under the EU's
voting system, which weights voting to reflect the populations
of the EU's member states.
Canada's Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver told Reuters
it was clear there was opposition to the EU proposal and said
Canada would not hesitate "to defend its interests".
The EU's Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said the tar
sands lobbyists had been unable to get a "no vote".
"With all the lobbyism against the Commission proposal, I
feared that member states' experts would have rejected the
proposal in today's experts committee. I am glad that this was
not the case," Hedegaard said in a statement.
"Now our proposal will go to ministers, and I hope
governments will realise that unconventional fuels of course
need to account for their considerably higher emissions through
Ministers are expected to take a decision on the issue in
June when the risk for the European Commission would be that
some of the high number of abstentions at Thursday's meeting
would turn into no votes.
Environmental groups welcomed the chance for open debate
after a series of closed-door technical meetings.
Greenpeace EU transport policy adviser Franziska Achterberg
said the tar sands issue was "finally in the hands of publicly
"The evidence is clear: tar sands are the world's dirtiest
fuels. The decision is even clearer: ministers should stand up
to the oil industry and ban them from Europe," she said.
Canada does not directly sell its crude to Europe, although
the EU receives some fuel imports that are refined from Canadian
oil in the United States.
Its concern is more about the damage to tar sands' image and
the impact on future sales that could result from the EU's plan.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative
government has made expanding markets for oil sands a top
priority and has lobbied not just against the EU law but against
environmentalists opposed to pipeline projects in Canada and the
Within the European Union, Canada has found some support in
Britain and the Netherlands, both of which have stakes in Royal
Dutch Shell, one of the firms active in tar sands,
along with Total of France.
They were among those nations to abstain on Thursday.
Norman Baker, Britain's under-secretary of state for
transport, said Britain supported measures to deal with highly
polluting fuels, but thought the Commission's proposal needed
"We do not want this matter to end in stalemate with no
action being taken," Baker said in an email.
No-voters included Estonia, home to shale oil, which would
also be labelled as carbon intensive.
There were 54 votes in favour of the proposal, 128 votes
against and 128 abstentions, which means there were not enough
votes to result in a qualified majority either way, under the
EU's highly complex system.
Firm backing for the European Commission's proposal, under
the Fuel Quality Directive, has been led by nations such as
Denmark, holder of the rotating EU presidency and a keen
advocate of environmental reform.
The directive's overall goal is to reduce the carbon
intensity of transport fuels by 6 percent by 2020 as part of
wider goals to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020.
As a means to that end, it assigns greenhouse gas values to
a series of fuels, including those derived from tar sands, which
require especially high amounts of energy to convert them into
Tar sands are assigned a default greenhouse gas value of 107
grams of carbon per megajoule, informing buyers it has a greater
climate impact across its life-cycle from wells to wheels than
conventional crude with 87.5 grams.
"If people want to use tar sands, it will be more difficult
to achieve the target of reducing greenhouse gases by 6
percent," Peter Willumsen, head of section at the Danish energy
agency, told Reuters television on arrival for Thursday's
meeting at an anonymous Commission building in Brussels.
Slovakia also supported the directive.
"Your children will give you the answer," Matiaz Ferjancic,
Slovakia's technical representative at the meeting, said when