UK secretly promoting oil extraction from Canadian tar sands

By Muriel Kane
Sunday, November 27, 2011 17:35 EDT
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Canadian politicians are being secretly aided by the highest levels of the British government in their attempts to ward off European penalties on the use of oil from Canada’s highly polluting tar sands

The Guardian reported on Sunday that documents obtained under a freedom of information request show that at least fifteen high-level meetings over the issue have taken place since September, including a personal discussion between the British and Canadian prime ministers.

Following that meeting, British Energy Minister Charles Hendry told the Canadian high commissioner, “We would value continued discussion with you on how we can progress discussions in Brussels.” Hendry’s office also asked the Canadians if they had “any suggestions as to what we might do, given the politics in Brussels.”

As explained by The Guardian, “The European proposal is to designate transport fuel from tar sands as resulting in 22% more greenhouse gas emissions than that from conventional fuels. This would make suppliers, who have to reduce the emissions from their fuels by 10% by 2020, very reluctant to include it in their fuel mix. It would also set an unwelcome precedent for Canada by officially labelling fuel from tar sands as dirtier.”

Extraction of oil from the tar sands is highly controversial in the United States, and Friends of the Earth has released emails which it claims demonstrate complicity between TransCanada and U.S. State Department officials, who “acted as though they were on the same team as TransCanada, rather than meeting their obligation to be independent regulators.” The Obama administration recently announced that it will postpone any decision on the construction of a pipeline to carry oil from Canada to Texas until after next year’s election.

However, these new revelations are likely to prove far more embarrassing for the British government than anything which has yet surfaced in the U.S. Environmentalist Bill McKibben, who was arrested last summer in a protest against the pipeline, even suggests that “the UK seems to have emerged as Canada’s partner in crime, leaning on Brussels to let this crud across the borders.”

Shell and BP have been heavily lobbying the UK Minister for Transport, Norman Baker, who is reponsible for tar sands issues, but his department has refused to release several relevant documents and has provided only heavily redacted versions of others.

The executive director of Greenpeace UK has slammed Baker, saying, “The scale of oil industry lobbying exposed in these documents is quite extraordinary. It’s especially worrying that Baker held a secret meeting with Shell about this key European vote on tar sands. But worse still, he’s now covering up what was discussed.”

Photo by Tar Sands Action from Flickr.

Muriel Kane
Muriel Kane
Muriel Kane is an associate editor at Raw Story. She joined Raw Story as a researcher in 2005, with a particular focus on the Jack Abramoff affair and other Bush administration scandals. She worked extensively with former investigative news managing editor Larisa Alexandrovna, with whom she has co-written numerous articles in addition to her own work. Prior to her association with Raw Story, she spent many years as an independent researcher and writer with a particular focus on history, literature, and contemporary social and political attitudes. Follow her on Twitter at @Muriel_Kane
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