Oxford votes to be Europe’s first ‘tar-free city’

Oxford City council rules out using oil from Canadian tar sands

Oxford City Council has voted to become the first city in Europe to shun oil from controversial Canadian tar sands.

In a near-unanimous decision, the council chose to adapt its energy procurement policy to ensure the oil doesn’t enter the city’s economy.

The vote, on 24 June, follows pledges already made by several US cities and companies.

Rising oil prices and intense lobbying by the Canadian government has led to heavy involvement by Shell, with BP right behind them. RBS, HSBC and Barclays are also major stakeholders.

According to EU estimates, processing these sands uses around 23% more energy than conventional oil extraction.

Currently producing 1.9m barrels of oil a day and believed to be the biggest energy project on earth, the sands are at the centre of a fierce debate.

Much of the oil is deposited underneath the soil in areas of dense forest, which are strip mined to allow access.

This has led to overwhelming destruction of the local environment, as well as damage to the livelihoods and health of indigenous First Nations communities in the area.

Ruthi Brandt, campaigner for the UK Tar Sands Network, said: “Since declaring Oxford a tar-free town we have already had interest from a number of places in the UK, ranging from very small towns to big cities.”

Although oil from tar sands hasn’t arrived in the UK yet, that day could be edging closer with the controversial Keystone XL pipeline due to be completed in 2015. This would connect Canada with the US Gulf Coast and from there Europe is just one step away.

The EU is set to vote later this year on the Fuel Quality Directive, which would label oil according to the carbon intensity of its extraction.