A group of Canada's oilsands producers, including some of the industry's biggest names, said Thursday they can improve environmental performance with an alliance that will allow them to share their knowledge and resources.   

CEOs of 12 companies have signed the founding charter of Canada's Oil Sands Innovation Alliance.   

It includes such major oilsands producers as Shell, Suncor and Imperial Oil Ltd. 

"The public's expectation of environmental performance in the oilsands continues to evolve," said John Abbott, executive vice-president for heavy oil at Shell Canada.   

"Coming together today to sign the charter is a significant and important step for all our companies and marks a pivotal point in our industry."   

Members say it will break down barriers in funding, intellectual property enforcement and human resources that may otherwise slow progress on environmental performance.   

Suncor chief operating officer Steve Williams, who is set to take the reins as CEO of Canada's largest energy company later this year, said the companies will continue to compete aggressively with one another on other fronts.   

But "none of us has a monopoly on ideas" when it comes to the environment, he said in a presentation.

EU stalemated over oilsands issue 

Oilsands crude is often deemed by critics as a "dirty" source of oil because of the greenhouse gases released during its production, and for its impact on land and water.   

Last month, a fight over a proposed European Union rule that would penalize fuel derived from Alberta's oilsands was dumped in the laps of European politicians after a technical committee failed to reach a conclusive stance.   

The EU's Fuel Quality Directive classifies feedstocks used to create transportation fuel by the amount of greenhouse gas they create. It has only two classifications for oil: conventional crude and natural bitumen, which would include the oilsands.   

The classifications would be used to encourage greater use of low-carbon feedstocks.   

An EU committee voted 128-89 against the directive. There were 128 abstentions. The committee needed 255 votes to either approve or reject the proposal.   

The abstainers included Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Holland. The last three are all home to energy multinationals with major interests in the oilsands.   

The proposal now goes to the Council of Europe, which is a ministerial-level group of politicians from the EU's 27 member countries. The council is expected to rule on the issue in June.   

The Canadian government and industry say the problem with the proposal is that it puts some fuel feedstocks in the same low-carbon category as conventional oil even though their greenhouse gas emissions are similar to oilsands feedstocks.