Oil is oil is oil and it is well nigh impossible to separate it once it's in the pipeline. But that was then and this is now. Two stories I came across today suggest that there are some out there that are working hard to differentiate between oil sources, as difficult as that sounds.
First, according to the Globe & Mail, Canada's federal government seems to be picking a fight with the European Union as the EU pushes European fuel suppliers to reduce the carbon footprint of supplied fuels over the next decade (see Oil sands row threatens EU trade deal, sources say, February 22, 2011).
"Canada has threatened to scrap a trade deal with the European Union if the EU persists with plans that would block imports of Canada’s highly polluting tar sands, according to EU documents and sources .....The Commission had initially proposed that tar sands be ascribed a greenhouse gas value of 107 grams per megajoule of fuel, making it clear to buyers that it had far greater impact than average crude oil at 87.1 grams. The latest EU research, published this month, backs that up."
I'm not quite clear on why Canada would pick a fight over a product that the EU does not, and is unlikely to, import from Canada. However, what interested me was the "certifying" of different oil sources ... an interesting precedence (and perhaps a reason for the disagreement).
Much more interesting was an article in GOOD magazine's Issue 022, The Energy Issue. On a safari through the range of energy issues facing the U.S. today, GOOD slipped a short mention of David Poritz's Gaia Certification Ltd. and its efforts to establish a certification standard for oil sources. According to GOOD, Poritz's goal is "Fair Trade" in fuels, that allows consumers to pick the the level of environmental performance that they are willing to pay for. His model is the Forest Stewardship Council, which oversees standards for certifying woodlands and forest product producers. You may have noticed companies like Home Depot selling FSC lumber or Staples selling FSC paper.
A quick look at the website suggests Gaia Certification is just getting started, and choosing to do so in Ecuador (where Chevron has become embroiled in lawsuits and accusations of systemic oil spills and pollution). Drawing on participation from industry, NGO's, government and indigenous communities, Gaia is on the verge of issuing its first set of certification standards, which will serve as the basis for rating the practices of individual countries.
A summary of what Gaia is trying to achieve:
"The mission of Gaia Certification Ltd. is to create a market-driven process that will reward and distinguish world-class oil and gas producers for outstanding social and environmental performance through the active engagement of consumers, civil society, NGOs and the oil industry."
And Poritz is quoted by GOOD, outlining the value proposition for energy marketers as the world makes the transition to low-carbon fuels:
"There’s real market value here for energy producers, ...... It takes time to move to all renewables. We’re in transition, and that transition has to feel good."
It could be the start of something interesting - a first step towards extended product responsibility for the oil industry. Forget Regular, Premium and Super, imagine going to your local boutique gasoline bar and having a choice of Fort McMurray Mild, Colorado Medium or, for the more discriminating the really good imported stuff, Ecuadorean Dark.