Alberta oilsands cleared for EU but face scathing domestic reviews

It’s one step forward, two steps back for Alberta’s oilsands, after two scathing reports detailing environmental failures just as the European Union cleared oilsands crude for import.

The European Union scrapped a proposal Tuesday that would have seen Alberta crude labelled as “dirty oil” and in doing so, spurred hopes that Alberta’s bitumen could one day be exported to Europe. That win for oil producers came just as a report by the Alberta auditor general found the oilsands aren’t being monitored well enough, and another from Canada’s environment commissioner saying Canada isn’t doing enough to meet its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction plan.

“I think when you make a commitment, you need to keep it,” said environment commissioner Julie Gelfand. 

Alberta Premier Jim Prentice issued a statement Tuesday afternoon on the EU decision. 

In it, he highlighted the move as a win for Alberta while acknowledging there are still concerns about many aspects of oilsands crude production.

“Today’s news is a very positive development for Alberta, and for all Canadians,” Prentice said in the news release. “While there are still some concerns that need to be addressed, like more clarity around reporting and compliance, we will continue to work with the federal government and advocate for Alberta’s interests.”

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers agreed with Prentice, saying the EU decision ensures Alberta oil is not discriminated against.

“The current draft, from our perspective, is good news because it doesn’t single out Canadian crude oil supplies as being different from other crudes across the world,” said Terry Abel, oilsands director at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). “It provides a level playing field for us.”

However, the Pembina Institute says the EU decision and lack of monitoring hurt, rather than help, Alberta and Canada’s images on the world stage.

Oilsands analyst Erin Flanagan works with the Pembina Institute and says Alberta and Canada need to step up their game when it comes to oilsands monitoring.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about world-class monitoring,” she said. “Frankly, Canada and Alberta just aren’t there yet.”

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