GeneralOil Sands

Dirty Diplomacy: Tar Sands Industry and the Fuel Quality Directive

tar sands industry Canada

The Canadian Government and Big Oil are working together to promote the tar sands industry and weaken climate legislation throughout the world. They are particularly targeting Europe and a primary battleground is the EU Fuel Quality Directive. [1]

The Fuel Quality Directive and the Canadian tar sands industry

The EU is negotiating a Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) with the aim of encouraging the use of low-carbon transport fuels and discouraging the use of high-emission fuel. It aims to reduce Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions from road transportation by six per cent. [2]

An independent study concluded that oil from tar sands produces 23 per cent more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional crude. Based on this, the EU wants to label tar sands oil as more polluting than conventional oil. This would strongly discourage tar sands being imported into the European market.[3]

As a result, the Canadian government is fighting against this, largely due to the precedent this would set for other vital markets – such as the US. It could also prevent planned tar sands extraction projects in other parts of the world, such as Madagascar.

The Canadian government initially tried to discredit the science behind it, and insisted that tar sands oil was no more harmful to the environment than conventional oil. It also conjured up the spectre of a legal challenge for unfair discrimination at the World Trade Organisation.

However, once the EU secured a peer-reviewed study confirming the highly carbon-intensive nature of tar sands extraction, Canada switched tack and began stalling the FQD by claiming that tar sands should not be singled out until every other possible source of transport fuel is measured for carbon-intensity [4].

This argument was misleading as other fuels are also being included in the FQD. However, a lot of countries, including the UK, bought it, as well as erroneous arguments about “unfair administrative burdens” on importing companies.

When it came to a vote in February 2012, enough major countries voted against or abstained to stall the process. Under pressure from environmental campaigners, the UK switched its vote from ‘no’ to ‘abstain’. This was a small but significant victory against the dirty diplomats.



[1] Tar Sands Report,

[2] Fuel Quality,

[3] Exclusive Interview: Why Tar Sands Oil Is More Polluting and Why It Matters,

[4] Tar sands and the Fuel Quality Directive – what is it all about?,



Related posts
Oil Sands

Can the CO2 Created by Mining Oil Sands Be Captured?


Tar Sands in Canada: High Carbon & Low Benefits

Oil Sands

Alberta Oil Sands: Canada's Environmental Disaster


Mineral Tailings Ponds

Sign up for our Newsletter