Nobel laureates press EU leaders on tar sands law


* Canada's wrath at EU law overshadows trade talks

* Nobel laureates say oil sands have 'devastating impact'

By Barbara Lewis

BRUSSELS, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Twenty-one Nobel laureatesincluding South African anti-apartheid campaigner Desmond Tutuhave written to European Union leaders urging them to implementa law that would label oil from tar sands as dirtier than othercrudes.

The EU tar sands proposal has incensed the government ofCanada, whose economy is highly dependent on its vast reservesof unconventional oil and it has overshadowed protracted talkson a trade treaty with the European Union.

The Nobel laureates say the EU law is necessary because "theextraction of unconventional fuels - such as oil sands and oilshale - is having a particularly devastating impact on climatechange", according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters.

The letter was sent this week to European CommissionPresident Jose Manuel Barroso and EU heads of state.

Apart from Tutu, awarded the Nobel peace prize, anotherpeace laureate on the list is Jody Williams, who received theprize for her work to ban land mines. Some others won Nobelprizes for chemistry or medicine.

As a native of the U.S. state of Vermont, which could be aroute for transporting tar sands, Williams says her oppositionis both "very personal and very global". For her it is a matterof world peace.

Climate protection "certainly affects any possibility ofcreating a world of sustainable peace," she told Reuters.

Canada sits on the world's third-largest crude reservesafter Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. But the vast majority isunconventional, including tar sands - clay-like deposits thatrequire more energy than conventional oil to extract.

Very little of it makes its way to Europe for now, but thatcould change as new pipelines are being developed such asTransCanada Corp's Keystone XL pipeline.

EU member states approved legislation in 2009, called theFuel Quality Directive, with the aim of cutting greenhouse gasesfrom transport fuel sold in Europe by 6 percent by 2020.

In October 2011, the Commission proposed detailed rules forimplementing the law, including default values to rank fuels bytheir greenhouse gas output over their wells-to-wheels lifecycle.

So far the Commission has said it is standing by its value for tar sands - of 107 grams per megajoule - making it clear tobuyers that the fuel source had more greenhouse gas impact thanaverage crude oil at 87.5 grams.

Intense Canadian lobbying and an inconclusive EU vote on thelaw forced the Commission to announce an assessment of theimpact of the Fuel Quality Directive in April 2012.

EU sources say the assessment has been concluded, but notyet made public, so the law is still in limbo.

The Canadians have argued the EU law discriminates againstCanadian oil and have taken every opportunity to press theircase.

The Commission has said repeatedly it would stand firm onthe law, but the pressure to weaken the measure is intense.

No-one from Barroso's office was immediately available tocomment.

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