Tar sands ‘dirty oil’ could soon be coming to the UK


According to the report, “Tar Sands coming to Town”, Valero purchased the Pembroke refinery in August 2011[3] as part of its plans to increase diesel exports to Europe, particularly the UK and Ireland. The company plans for a rapidly growing portion of this diesel to originate from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada.

The tar sands industry has been criticised for its widespread deforestation, high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, use of huge amounts of water and natural gas, and resulting local toxic pollution that has disproportionate impacts on local indigenous communities. It has been met with wave of resistance in the Canada and US with hundreds arrested in acts of civil disobedience [4].

Valero is a prominent supporter of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would take tar sands oil from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast, a hub for oil exports [5]. The company is also a supporter of the reversal of another pipeline in Canada that would take tar sands east from Alberta to Montreal. Valero operates another refinery in Quebec and has illustrated that it would use this as another exportopportunity to the UK and Europe [5].

The European Fuel Quality Directive [6], a policy initiative that could discourage the import of fuels from environmentally destructive sources such as the tar sands, is still being debated, having met strong resistance from the oil industry.

The report was launched at a public meeting in Pembrokeshire last night (30th October), where Jill Evans MEP and Emily Coats from the UK Tar Sands Network spoke to concerned residents about the dangers of tar sands expansion. A spokesperson from Valero was invited to the meeting but declined to attend.

In response to the report, Valero has emphasized that the company is not involved in the extraction of tar sands, but admits that the petroleum products they import to the UK are likely to include oil derived from the Canadian tar sands.

Emily Coats from UK Tar Sands Network said: “Tar sands extraction is devastating the environment, destroying indigenous people’s lives and livelihoods, and locking us into a future of catastrophic climate change. We need to block off new markets for tar sands oil in order to slow the dangerous expansion of this industry and encourage investment in renewable energy. The EU Fuel Quality Directive is meant to slow the flow of tar sands oil into Europe, so we’d be keen to see how this fits Valero’s plans. We in the UK must say no to tar sands coming to our towns.”

Gordon James from Pembrokeshire Friends of the Earth said: “We are strongly opposed to a fuel derived from such an environmentally damaging source being used in Britain, and we certainly don’t want it imported through local ports. It would be a travesty for it to enter Britain through Wales when the Welsh Government is aiming to make sustainable development its central organising principle. In the 1990s we successfully fought a long and hard campaign to prevent ‘Orimulsion’ fuel, which has similar properties to tar sands oil, being imported and burnt at Pembroke power station. Once again, we believe that Pembrokeshire should have nothing to do with such a damaging fuel and we shall campaign vigorously to prevent it happening.”

The report is available here. For a hard copy email

Click here for a Corporate Watch company profile of Valero


[1] A very small quantity of tar sands oil has already been discovered to be entering Europe, see here but this latest report, “Tar Sands coming to Town”, uncovers evidence that this could soon be growing significantly.

[2] For more information on tar sands see no-tar-sands.org

[3] In August 2011, Valero purchased the Pembroke refinery in Wales, its first outside North America. The £450 million deal also included ownership interests in four major pipelines and 11 fuel terminals, a 14,000 barrel per day aviation fuels business, and more than 1,000 Texaco-branded service stations in the UK and Ireland.

[4] In the two weeks up to 3rd September, 1,253 people were arrested in daily sit-ins outside the White House as part of an ongoing grassroots campaign against tar sands and the Keystone XL pipeline in North America. More here

[5] Valero has committed to taking on at least 100,000 barrels a day (20% of initial capacity) from the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline until 2030. Valero has also recently upgraded its Port Arthur refinery in Texas, increasing its ability to process heavy sour crude (such as tar sands oil) to 80% of its 310,000 barrels per day capacity. Valero’s Port Arthur refinery is located right next to where the pipeline is planned to finish.

[6] Tar sands imports would be strongly discouraged by the proposed EU Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) legislation which aims to cut emissions from transport by 6% by 2020. The EU Commission has recommended the FQD labels tar sands-derived fuel as 23% more carbon intensive than fuel from conventional oil, to discourage individual companies from including tar sands-derived oil in their fuel mix. Yet the FQD has been repeatedly delayed, in part due to lobbying from the Canadian government and the oil industry.