EU should ban tar sands imports otherwise might not be able to achieve its emission targets, green groups have warned.
According to a report from the US natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC), the amount of heavy oil coming into the EU could increase from 4,000 barrels per day in 2012 to as much as 725,000 barrels per day in 2020.
It is estimated that between 5.3 and 6.7 per cent of crude oil and transport fuel used in the EU could come from imported tar sands, pushing the EU transport fuel emissions up by 1.5 per cent and making it more difficult for Europe to achieve its targets.
Tar sands are estimated to produce 23 per cent more emissions when used for transport fuel production than conventional oil.
Canada, one of the countries with the largest tar sands deposits, is currently lobbying internationally in a search for new outlets as the North American oil market faces a glut.
"Canada's politicians and their best friends from Shell and BP are desperate to open up new markets for their polluting oil,” said Greenpeace EU transport policy director Franziska Achterberg.
"They have used all the tricks in the book for Europe to ignore its own environmental standards. If Europe fails to stand by its laws, it will allow a flood of tar sands to wreck its carbon footprint."
The EU's fuel quality directive demands a 6 per cent cut in emissions from transport fuel by 2020, and efforts have been made to class tar sands as more polluting than conventional oil under the rules, which would effectively stop its import to EU countries. On the other hand, if transport fuels from tar sands get into use, the additional cost of achieving the 6 per cent goal could amount to up to £3.3bn, it has been estimated.
The reductions would be likely to come from using more biofuels, which are counted in the EU as low carbon but which would increase pressure on food production and on the environment, green groups warned.
"Trying to reduce the carbon emissions from our fuels by importing more of the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel in commercial production makes no sense. We need to keep tar sands out of Europe," said Colin Roche of Friends of the Earth Europe.
However, this week the European Commission said it would not set new emission reduction targets beyond 2030. The environmental groups see this decision as rather disconcerting. They believe abandoning targets for the fuel quality directive after 2020 would undermine efforts to reduce emissions from transport fuels this decade and beyond, and open the door to tar sands coming into Europe.
"Europe needs to decarbonise its transport fuels in the most efficient way possible,” said Nusa Urbancic, clean fuels policy manager at Transport & Environment.
"Allowing dirty tar sands to flood Europe is going to raise emissions – not lower them – and raise the costs of decarbonisation by billions of euros."