European MP defends EU oil sands policy

A member of the European Parliament says he's surprised that the Canadian government is lobbying on behalf of oil companies in Europe.

A member of the European Parliament says he's surprised the Canadian government is lobbying on behalf of oil companies in Europe.

Kriton Arsenis, a Greek member of the Social Democratic Alliance, says he expected to hear from oil companies who object to EU plans to label Canadian oil sands oil dirtier than conventional fuel.

"We would expect hard lobbying from the oil companies, there are a lot of European companies involved in the production of oil sands. And we didn't," Arsenis said. "The part that was more active was the Canadian government."

Arsenis is meeting with MPs in Ottawa to explain the EU's plans to add Canadian oil sands bitumen to its fuel quality directive.

He said in an interview with CBC that he's been personally approached by Canadian officials as part of the debate over ranking of Canadian oil.

"I've been contacted by the Canadian permanent delegation in Brussels and the arguments that were presented to me were there are lots of sources of conventional oil that are more polluting and more contributing to climate than the oil sands, and I replied, 'please bring the data and we will see what we can do'."

EU directive puts value on emissions

The European Union fuel quality directive looks at how carbon intensive a fuel is and calculates its entire life cycle of emissions — from "well to wheel" — then assigns it a number.

Oil from the oil sands would have a higher number than conventional oil because its uses more energy to extract and refine.  The directive is part of Europe's attempts to meets its Kyoto commitments and reduce C02 emissions by encouraging the use of cleaner fuel.

Canada doesn't export much oil to Europe yet, but could in the future. The fuel quality directive would make Alberta's main export more expensive for European customers.

"This would raise the cost of oil in order to have the environmental impact reflected in the price," says Arsenis. "If it comes from oils sands ... you would have to pay more."

The Canadian and Alberta governments dispute how the numbers are calculated and are actively trying to get the EU to withdraw the standard.  But Arsenis says that's simply not realistic.

"Eighty-nine per cent of EU citizens consider that reducing the emissions a high priority," he says. "I  fully understand the concerns of Canada ... it is producing a product that it would like to export. But it's just that EU can't subsidize the oil sands, it can't assign a lower emission value than what it really has."

The directive still has to be approved by the full European Parliament in the next couple of months.

In the meantime, oil sands companies are free to dispute the ranking of their product.

"If we make a mistake on this value... there is a process any company can do that. But we cannot have preferential treatment."