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The Union flag is seen through the EU flag as they fly outside The European Commission Representation in the United Kingdom in central London January 23, 2013. Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron promised on Wednesday to give Britons a referendum choice on whether to stay in the European Union or leave if he wins an election in 2015, placing a question mark over Britain's membership for years. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth (BRITAIN - Tags: POLITICS)STEFAN WERMUTH/Reuters

It's encouraging that Canada was able to exert "immense" pressure (in the words of a European Commission official) so as to moderate the terms of a proposed EU fuel quality directive that would have discriminated against Canadian exports of bitumen from the oil sands. Canadian persistence has been admirable, and no doubt the successful Canada-EU trade negotiations helped.

Alberta oil-sands bitumen is no more carbon-emitting (and sometimes less) than other heavy crudes that Europe imports from Nigeria and the Middle East. Canada would have been singled out for reasons of political fashion, not environmental logic.

Even so, Jim Prentice, the Premier of Alberta, is right to warn that, though this is "positive news for Alberta, and for all of Canada," this country cannot afford to appear to be a reluctant foot-dragger on the environmental front.

For example, the stalling of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline is a result of immense pressure from the environmental movement, which harms Canada's legitimate economic interests.

Until recently, Canada's worry about the EU fuel quality directive was less about exports to Europe than a more widespread stigmatization of all oil-sands oil.

But now that Russia has been increasingly exploiting its oil and gas to manipulate its European neighbours, the proposed Energy East pipeline in Canada is correspondingly more attractive to our European allies. And shipping oil-sands oil across the Atlantic Ocean is becoming practical. Already, there have been shipments from to Spain and Italy, and another from Montreal.

The reasonable case against the oil sands is not about the oil itself, but about the consequences of its extraction, in processes such as flaring and venting, and in long-term changes of land use.

While the outlook for Alberta oil in Europe has much improved, Canada must still increase its efforts to mitigate the undesirable effects of getting it out of the ground.