U.K. supports Canada on oilsands

The British government has been secretly working with Canada to fight proposed penalties on fuel from the Alberta oilsands, according to the Guardian newspaper in London.

British government supports fight against penalties on Alberta fuel

The British government has been secretly working with Canada to fight a European proposal that would officially label fuel from the Alberta oil sands as dirtier than conventional sources, according to the Guardian newspaper in London.

The Guardian says Shell and BP, which both have major oilsands projects in Alberta, successfully lobbied the British government to back Canada's fight against the EU proposal.

An oilfield worker walks past the Statoil oilsands facility near Conklin, Alta. A European Union proposal would officially label fuel from the oilsands as dirty because it results in 22 per cent more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional sources. (Todd Karol/Reuters)

The newspaper says Foreign Secretary William Hague offered support to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government in September in opposing the proposal, which goes to a vote on Friday.

The proposal officially labels transport fuel from the oilsands as dirty because it results in 22 per cent more greenhouse gas emissions than fuel from conventional sources.

Jeffrey Sundquist, managing director for the Government of Alberta's U.K. office, said Monday that the EU proposal is discriminatory.

"It ignores crudes that have as high or higher emitting GHGs that are actually entering the eurozone," he said. "Canada does not export in any meaningful way crudes to Europe, so we find it very interesting that we are somehow going to enable them to hit their reduction targets."

The worry for the oilsands industry is that a negative label from the EU will set precedents elsewhere.

"We are a very open, a very transparent and very highly regulated energy sector so for us to be singled out wrongfully while the EU 27 turn a blind eye to knowingly higher crudes does not resonate well with us and certainly from a reputation perspective we want to be seen as we are — a very responsible country and province," he said. 

Support for the oilsands could make Canada and Britain unpopular at climate change talks that open Monday in Durban, South Africa.

The news comes the same week that Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent called the international agreement "one of the biggest blunders" the Liberal government ever made and said his government is committed to a "realistic" plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"Kyoto is the past, Copenhagen and Cancun are the future," Kent said, referring to the commitments made at climate change talks in those cities in recent years.

'Very disappointing'

The Guardian, which relied on documents released under freedom of information laws, said that Alberta Energy Minister Ron Leipert told U.K. Treasury Minister Lord Sassoon that he was grateful for the U.K.'s efforts on the oilsands issue.

The newspaper also said that it's likely the Netherlands, Spain and Poland will support Canada's position.

The Guardian report is based on documents obtained by the Co-operative — a U.K. mutual business group that targets oilsands as part of its climate change campaigning.

"It is very disappointing that the U.K. government is supporting Canada's efforts and we hope it has a rethink and puts tackling climate change ahead of Canada's trade interests when it comes to vote on the European commission's commonsense proposal," Colin Baines, toxic fuels campaign manager at the Co-operative told the Guardian.

Outside Britain's transport ministry in London on Monday, Greenpeace activists chained themselves to two cars, surrounded by a dozen or so supporters and roughly the same number of police. On the street beside them a banner read "Her Majesty's Department for Tar Sands" and showed two forearms gripped in a handshake — one wearing a Union Jack cufflink and the other a Maple Leaf.

Demonstrator Paul Morozzo accused the British government of colluding with Ottawa and Canadian oil interests. 

"It looks like it's a possibility that they will stand with the Canadians, which obviously we think is really really not in the interests of either U.K. or European citizens because of the implications for, one, climate change and, two, how we view the future of our relationship with oil," he said.

Bill McKibben, a U.S. environmentalist who was arrested in August protesting against TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline, said the U.K. seems to have emerged as "Canada's partner in crime."

"This will be among the biggest single environmental decisions the Cameron government makes," he said.

With files from The Canadian Press