Insight: Canada's oil sand battle with Europe

Thu May 10, 2012 9:34am EDT
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By Barbara Lewis, David Ljunggren and Jeffrey Jones

BRUSSELS/OTTAWA (Reuters) - There's a science to using science.

On May 9, the government of Alberta released a study into the extra carbon emitted by crude produced using oil sands instead of more conventional sources. The study, by a unit of California-based Jacobs Engineering Group, found that emissions from oil-sand crude are just 12 percent higher than from regular crude.

But the report was not just about the science. It also sent a political signal to Europe: Canada's fight over oil sands is not done yet.

As part its ambitious efforts to cut carbon emissions, the European Union has proposed classifying crude produced from oil sands, or tar sands as environmentalists and others call them, as much dirtier than other fuels.

A 2011 study for the EU by Stanford University academic Adam Brandt found that oil-sand crude was as much as 22 percent more carbon intensive.

Canada, whose oil sands have helped it become an energy power, fears such a ruling could imperil a resource it estimates will add more than C$3 trillion to its economy over the next 25 years.

Which is why Ottawa has waged a concerted lobbying campaign against Brussels' proposal over the past three years. An examination of hundreds of pages of documents obtained under access to information legislation in both Brussels and Ottawa, some dating back to 2009, as well as interviews with leading officials in both Canada and Europe show just how extensive that effort has been.

The governments of Canada and Alberta, along with Canadian companies, have wooed dozens of European parliamentarians, offered trips to Alberta and sponsored conferences in an effort that Chris Davies, a British Liberal Member of the European Parliament and a backer of the EU proposal, said "has been stunning in its intensity."   Continued...

A cup of heavy oil produced at the Statoil oil sands operation near Conklin, Alberta, is seen in this file picture taken November 3, 2011. REUTERS/Todd Korol/Files