* 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 EU nations, under heavy
pressure from Canada, failed on Thursday to agree on a proposal
to label fuel from tar sands as particularly polluting, giving
Ottawa four more months to press its case that the move would
unfairly discriminate against one of its most lucrative exports.
A committee of technical experts was unable to deliver a
decisive vote on the European executive's proposal to tag oil
sands as more carbon-intensive than other crude sources as part
of its efforts to curb global warming.
Canada, whose northern Alberta oil sands are the world's
third-largest crude deposit, complains the proposal ignores
scientific evidence that emissions are comparable to many other
oil sources. It has threatened trade actions should the proposal
The country sells almost no oil in Europe, but worries such
a classification under the EU's Fuel Quality Directive (FQD)
would sully its reputation as it strives to tap new markets
elsewhere. The tag would take into account the extra energy it
takes to produce and process the gooey heavy crude.
The indecisive result of the closed-door vote, in which
dozens of the experts abstained, prompted officials on both
sides of the debate to claim victory.
"We're very pleased. This was certainly a resounding win ...
it was a victory for science and good policy," Canadian Natural
Resources Minister Joe Oliver told Reuters.
Canada will not let up with its intense lobbying efforts in
Europe as EU ministers prepare to vote on the initiative
themselves in June, Oliver said.
"If unjustified and discriminatory measures to implement the
FQD are ultimately put in place, we're not going to hesitate to
defend our interests," he said.
Alberta Premier Alison Redford, whose province contains the
170 billion barrels of crude, said the label would have made it
tougher to convince new markets that serious efforts are being
made to improve environmental performance.
However, the EU's climate commissioner, Connie Hedegaard,
pointed out that tar sands lobbyists had failed in their goal to
secure a decisive "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 realize that unconventional fuels of course
need to account for their considerably higher emissions through
NEW MARKETS SOUGHT
For the Conservative government of Canadian Prime Minister
Stephen Harper, the stakes could hardly be higher. It has made
expanding markets for the Alberta oil sands its Job One.
Besides seeking to shoot down EU labeling, it has been
cajoling Washington to approve TransCanada Corp's
planned $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Texas,
and is an enthusiastic promoter of new pipelines to the Pacific
Coast, which would open up rich Asian markets.
All are controversial as environmental groups mount
campaigns against new pipelines to create pinchpoints aimed at
slowing development of the huge Alberta resource.
Following the vote, they 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.
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 largest oil sands developers,
along with Total of France. They were among nations to
abstain on Thursday.
Norman Baker, Britain's under-secretary of state for
transport, said his country supported measures to deal with
highly polluting fuels, but thought the Commission's proposal
"We do not want this matter to end in stalemate with no
action being taken," Baker said in an email.
'YOUR CHILDREN WILL GIVE YOU THE ANSWER'
"No" voters included Estonia, home to shale oil, which would
also be labeled as carbon intensive.
There were 54 votes in favor of the proposal, 128 votes
against and 128 abstentions, producing no qualified majority
either way under the EU's highly complex system.
Support for tagging the crude as dirty has been led by
nations such as Denmark, holder of the rotating EU presidency
and a keen advocate of environmental reform.
Slovakia also supported the directive. "Your children will
give you the answer," Matiaz Ferjancic, Slovakia's technical
representative at the meeting, said when asked why.
The directive's overall goal is to reduce carbon intensity
of transport fuels by 6 percent by 2020 as part of a wider
target cutting 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 oil sands, which
require high amounts of energy to convert them into fuel.
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, which has been assigned 87.5 grams.