The first large-scale shipment of highly polluting tar sands oil from Canada is said to have arrived in Spain last week.
The 570,000-barrel Western Canada Select heavy blend crude container was delivered to Bilbao. It was met by a group of activists, protesting against the introduction of oil from tar sands in Europe and more generally against fossil fuels.
A spokesman for Repsol, which delivered the shipment, said, “We’re trying to give a future for oil refining in Europe, where many refineries have been shutting down in recent years. We share environmental concerns but we think the solution is in efficiency and technology.”
Oil from tar sands is more polluting than conventional oil because it involves a much more carbon intensive extraction process and requires large amounts of water. It emits about 12% more carbon emissions and has also been criticised by human rights groups because its production negatively affect indigenous communities in Canada.
The Canadian government has previously lobbied in order to open up a market for its oil in Europe, recently eased by the delicate situation in Ukraine, which is reshaping the EU’s energy policy.
However, pressure groups have always opposed the move and called for the Canadian oil to be labelled as more polluting than conventional oil – a measure that was challenged by a number of EU member states, including the UK, and then dropped. It is estimated that if current pipeline projects go ahead, Europe could be importing 700,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day by 2020.
Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper said during the G7 talks, “We don’t see the crisis in Ukraine as simply an opportunity to market Canadian products, but obviously we’re deeply engaged in a discussion with our allies on how we can make sure that globally our energy supplies are secure and stable”.
Recent analysis by the Carbon Tracker thinktank identified investment in Canadian tar sands oil as highly risky.
Photo: Howl Arts Collective via flickr