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EU Oil Sands Debate Continues After Committee Makes No Decision

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BRUSSELS (AP) — A European Union committee failed Thursday to reach a definite decision on labeling oil derived from oil sands as worse for climate change than crude oil — a proposal vigorously opposed by officials in Canada, where such oil is produced.

The proposal will now ultimately be decided by the environment ministers of EU's 27 member countries, said a spokesman for EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard. The spokesman, Isaac Valero-Ladron, said a decision was expected by June.

Canada had threatened to take the EU to the World Trade Organization if it singled out that type of oil as worse for the environment than others. But the European Commission, the EU's executive branch, contends that science justifies its proposal.

Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said Canada was pleased so many EU nations were opposed to what he called a discriminatory measure.

"We remain strongly opposed to Canadian oil sands crude being unfairly discriminated against without scientific justification," Oliver said in a statement. "If the EU moves ahead in implementing these or any other unjustified, discriminatory measures, Canada will not hesitate to defend its interests."

The proposal would be a revision of the EU's Fuel Quality Directive, which sets a mandatory target for fuel producers and suppliers to reduce the carbon emitted by fuels by 6 percent from 2010 levels by the year 2020. The proposal, while it would not have banned oil from oil sands from being imported into the EU, would have assigned it a bigger carbon footprint than average crude oil.

However, opponents of the proposal say that, in practice, that would amount to an import ban.

Oil sands, also known as tar sands, are sand and rock that contain crude bitumen, a heavy, viscous form of crude oil.

Under the European Commission proposal, oil extracted from oil sands would be deemed to emit 22 percent more greenhouse gas by weight than the average for crude oil. It would apply to such oil produced in Canada and Venezuela.

Greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, are believed to contribute to the warming of the earth's climate.

The vote in the Fuel Quality Directive Committee, composed of experts from the EU countries, was 89 in favor of the proposal, 128 against, while 128 abstained. The vote was by qualified majority, a system in which larger countries have more votes than smaller ones, and 255 votes were needed for the committee to either approve the proposal or reject it.

Friends of the Earth Europe, an environmentalist group, bemoaned the stalemate.

"Intense pressure from the Canadian and oil lobbies means we have missed a chance to keep high-polluting sources of fuels, such as tar sands, out of Europe," Darek Urbaniak, a representative of the group, said in a statement. "This further delays a decision on tar sands, but could represent an opportunity for a more responsible decision by environment ministers in June."

But Greenpeace, another environmentalist group, took comfort from the fact that the proposal was not defeated, saying that would have been "a victory for an industry that produces the dirtiest oil on Earth." The group called for the proposal to be adopted by EU environment ministers in June.

Hedegaard, the climate action commissioner, also was heartened that opponents had failed to kill the proposal.

"Thanks for all your support e-mails from Canada, US & rest of the world! Hopefully EU MS will listen," she tweeted, referring to EU member states.


Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report. Don Melvin can be reached at

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