The UK Government was urged today to back moves to restrict "tar sands" from entering Europe, after the US delayed a decision on a controversial pipeline carrying the oil from Canada.
The White House has put off a decision on the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline, in a move which could hold up action on the project until after next year's presidential elections.
President Barack Obama said the pipeline, which would carry up to 700,000 barrels of oil a day from the site of tar sands extraction in Alberta, Canada, to Texas, could affect the health and safety of the American people as well as the environment.
Environmentalists oppose tar sands because of their effect on the climate, as the fuel takes far more energy to extract than conventional oil, producing more emissions, as well as their impact on the forests of Alberta.
In the EU, the Commission has proposed to rule tar sands as more polluting than conventional transport fuels under the Fuel Quality Directive, which commits the bloc to reducing emissions from the production of transport fuel used in Europe by 6% by 2020.
The move could effectively ban the use of oil from tar sands in Europe if the bloc is to meet the directive's target.
Greenpeace today urged the UK Government, which it claims has come under pressure from Canada and the oil industry, not to vote against the EU proposals.
Charlie Kronick, of Greenpeace UK, said: "The White House has set back a project to pump highly polluting oil across America and into car engines around the world, and in the next few weeks Europe has the chance to deliver the industry an equally heavy blow.
"Extracting oil from tar sands emits on average three times more carbon dioxide than conventional oil drilling.
"President Obama cited climate change as a reason for the pipeline delay, now the British Government should recognise how environmentally destructive this industry is and vote with other European countries to restrict tar sands exports into Europe."