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Sensible Strategy
EU Warms Up to Canadian Oil Sands

The European Union is considering a proposal to scrap the “dirty” label for Canadian tar sands oil, signaling a newfound willingness to import crude, which it has been quick to snub for environmental reasons. But as the FT reports, the bloc’s green sensibilities may be fading under the weight of pragmatism:

Canada is only just starting to export crude to Europe, with the first test cargo moving via Texas to Spain last month. But it has plans to increase those sales. The new EU regulations as originally drafted would have made it very difficult to sell either crude oil from the tar sands or fuels made from that crude in Europe.

After years of lobbying, Canadian officials have persuaded the European Commission to change the methodology for the latest draft of the “fuel quality directive”. The result of the changes, if approved, would be that fuels derived from tar sands would not face discriminatory penalties.

It looks as if economic and energy security concerns will trump environmental ones. But this isn’t a sign that the EU is abandoning Gaia to its fate; rather, it signifies a (grudging) acknowledgement of a fact that Keystone XL protestors remain blind to: Alberta has oil, and people are going to buy it. You can block one route the crude will take to get to market, but just like water flowing downhill, it will find another (in this case, either east to Canada’s Atlantic coast, west towards its Pacific coast, or by truck and rail, as it is currently traveling). Similarly, you can throw regulations at the crude in order to prevent it from reaching your shores, but another buyer will just step up to take your place.

In other words, the opposition to oil sands has become a matter of principle alone, and Europe is finding itself increasingly incapable of maintaining such a stand.

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