Strengthening the Fuel Quality Directive

Project in a nutshell:

Strengthening European Fuel Quality Directive – Advocating, communicating science and informing policy-makers, civil society and media on unconventional fossil fuels – the primary objective of the project was to raise awareness on the necessity to report on the crude and petroleum intake on the European and Romanian fuel refining market, as well as consumers’ end products market – fuel transparency.

Period: 2014 – 2015 (completed)

Sponsor and Support: T&E

Value: EUR 5,000

In 1998, the European Union (EU) adopted the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) relating to the quality of petrol and diesel fuels. In 2009, this directive has been revised and several new elements have been added. In particular, article 7a) has been introduced, which requires fuel suppliers to decrease the carbon intensity of energy supplied for road transport by 6% by 2020.

Several studies have shown that unconventional fossil fuels have higher greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than conventional fossil fuels. For example, tar sands are 23% more GHG intensive and oil shale 50% more intensive than the average for conventional crude currently used in the EU. In addition, the extraction of these “dirty oils” has other huge detrimental impacts, including deforestation, air pollution, extinctions of certain species and violations of local and indigenous communities’ rights.

Therefore, for the 6% target to be implemented adequately, the EU needs to ensure that all greenhouse gas emissions associated with various sources of fuel are accounted for accurately and transparently. For fossil fuels, that means ‘default values’ that reflect the higher carbon emissions of sources such as oil shale and tar-sand oil when compared to conventional oil. In October 2011, the European Commission took this approach in a proposal detailing the implementing rules for the legislation, under the comitology procedure. However, Member States did not find a majority in favour of the proposal and the Commission decided to conduct an impact assessment before submitting a new proposal.

On 7th October 2014 the European Commission finally published a revised proposal which represents a significant watering down of the measures. Contrary to the 2011 proposal, fuel suppliers are not required to account for the high-carbon oil they are using. But it includes indicative values for tar sands and other unconventional feedstocks and a list of MCONs for companies to report to their governments. It also gives fuel suppliers alternative ways to meet the FQD target, such as promoting low carbon electricity used in transport or taking into account reduced emissions from flaring and venting. Despite the weakening, the latter elements of 2014 proposal are worth implementing and strengthening. The Council of Member States and the European Parliament have now officially adopted the rules. In the next months, T&E will be working with some key countries and advocate for a “goldplating” of the EU rules (go beyond what the EU rules prescribe) not only reporting but also on Upstream Emissions Reductions (UERs).

Overall, the discussions about unconventional fossil fuels have become more and more prominent in recent years, especially because of the huge lobby from the Canadian tar sands industry. T&E is working hard to ensure the latest information gets translated to the Member States and decision makers, scientific information is made accessible and transparent and that an open debate about unconventional fossil fuels takes place, involving the wider public. Only if the implications are properly understood can society make correct choices. It is therefore important to shift the debate from Brussels to several EU Member States. This will enhance transparency in the European Union and will above all provide science-based information and awareness raising in national languages to inform civil society, decision-makers, academia and the media.