‘Dirty’ Oil Supply: Geopolitical Turmoil Sinks Environmental Concerns

Darci Stanger - Oil

‘Dirty’ Oil Supply: Geopolitical Turmoil Sinks Environmental Concerns

By Darci Stanger, Staff Contributor

Due to recent tensions with Russia, the EU’s label of Canadian oilsands will be abandoned. In this article, GIELR Online explores the politics behind this decision.The European Union’s label of Canadian oilsands crude as highly polluting will be abandoned due to the recent tensions with Russia. The European Union may even reverse their recent actions of trying to block oilsands crude, in hopes of crafting a trade agreement with Canada to ensure the continued supply of oil.

In 2009, the EU began crafting legislation to reduce greenhouse gases produced by the transportation of fuel. A specific plan for implementation was never agreed upon. In an attempt to establish a procedure, the EU decided that oilsands crude would be given a carbon value a fifth higher than other sorts of oil, yet again there was no implementation.

“Environmental campaigners and Greenpeace representatives see this as a step backward for the EU […] they have accused the European Commission of putting trade ahead of the environment.” 

Extracting oil from the oil sands requires excavation in open-pit mines and pumping steam into the ground to force the oil to the surface. This method of extraction requires more energy and water, and emits higher levels of CO2 than more conventional methods of oil production.

Implementing restrictions on Canadian oilsands crude was never seen as a problem by the EU nations, in fact it was seen as major achievement towards reducing greenhouse gases and protecting the environment. However, with the tensions running high with top oil supplier Russia, and the risk of that energy source being cut off, the European Commission released a proposal that removes the obstacles that Canada was facing in exporting oilsands crude to Europe.

Environmental campaigners and Greenpeace representatives are outraged and see this as a step backward for the EU. They have accused the European Commission of putting trade ahead of the environment. The opposition claims that excusing the carbon reduction efforts on the part of the oil industry is unfair, inefficient, and costly. However, all hope is not lost for the environment. The proposal still includes ways to assess the pollution levels of fuels throughout their life cycle and proposed actions should these levels be inconsistent with climate goals established by the EU.

“… cutting off supplies from Canada would likely end up hurting Europeans more than it would hurt Canadian producers, because that oil would likely end up going somewhere else.”

Canada has voiced concerns that should the EU label oilsands crude as “highly polluting” this could seriously stigmatize Canadian oil and impact Canada’s ability to export oil. Rather, Canada has argued and encouraged Europe to accept Canadian oil as a secure source of energy, especially given the growing concerns with Russia. Don Pittis of CBC indicated that cutting off supplies from Canada would likely end up hurting Europeans more than it would hurt Canadian producers, because that oil would likely end up going somewhere else.

This proposal is to be reviewed by EU member states under a fast-track procedure, ultimately being decided in less than two months. After the review, the proposal will be sent to European Parliament, which will sign off on it. Hopefully a resolution can be attained before the EU alienates Canadian producers, and before it gets cut off by Russia and is left with no energy source – highly polluting or not.

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