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New documents reveal Canada's secret ‘Oil Sands Team’ in Europe

The Canadian government has been waging an unpublicized campaign in Europe to kill climate change legislation targeting the oil sands, official documents reveal.

Those documents, obtained through an Access to Information request by the Dominion newspaper, expose a “pan-European oil sands advocacy strategy” launched in December 2009.

This was around the same time that Canada was lambasted by environmental groups for inaction on global warming at international climate talks in Copenhagen.

From January to July 2010, according to the Dominion report, the federal government’s “Oil Sands Team” monitored negative media coverage, helped Canadian policymakers lobby European Parliamentarians and strengthened alliances with major oil companies.

But its main priority was to halt plans by the European Union to block fossil fuel imports from Alberta.

A pending clean energy law, known as the Fuel Quality Directive, would penalize high-carbon energy sources such as Canada’s vast oil sands reserves.

Led by the Department of Foreign Affairs, the 11-person “Oil Sands Team” worked alongside Natural Resources Canada, Environment Canada, the Alberta government and eight foreign missions.

It attempted to “prevent discriminatory treatment of the oil sands under the EU Fuel Quality Directive,” government documents show.

In practice, that meant lobbying parliamentarians to remove clauses targeting Alberta’s oil, even though an EU report found recently that fuel from the oil sands has a carbon footprint 23 percent bigger than conventional crude.

Some European policymakers saw Canada's advocacy as a blatant attack on its efforts to fight climate change.

“The government of Canada has been lobbying us in a manner that is not acceptable,” Green Party MEP Satu Hassi told the Globe and Mail in March.

European markets actually import very little oil sands fuel, but Canadian officials worry that green regulations could be copied elsewhere.

“Our fear is that if something happens in the EU and it is spread in other countries — not only members of the EU — we could have roughly one-third of the world’s population subscribing to regulation or legislation that mitigates against our oilsands,” Alberta International and Intergovernmental Relations Minister Iris Evans reportedly said last November.

(To read the full version of the Dominion’s report, click here).

Geoff Dembicki reports for the Tyee.

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