tar-sandsTiming, they say, is everything. Click on a copy of Canada’s National Post and one of the banner adverts today is from Shell talking about the “New Energy Future”.

Part of Shell’s “new Energy Future” is the Canadian tar sands, where it has been investing heavily (although it may be shifting direction again back to more conventional oil and gas reserves).

The company has always defended the environmental impact of tar sands and its record in Canada.

However underneath the Shell banner advert is an article called “Taking gentle aim at oil sands” which reports comments made by Canada’s Federal Environment Minister, Jim Prentice who said yesterday that the oil companies had to improve their environmental performance.

Prentice argued that Canada risks becoming “cast as a global poster child for environmentally unsound resource development” if it doesn’t clean up its act on the tar sands.

“The development of the oil sands and the environmental footprint of these industrial activities have become an international issue and as such, they now transcend the interests of any single corporation,” Prentice said. “What is at issue on the international stage is our reputation as a country.

Despite the rhetoric, Mr. Prentice did not outline specific regulations that would force companies like Shell to reduce greenhouse gases emissions, until the US acts.

“We have to calibrate at the end of the day the obligations we impose on trade-exposed industries with those that are to be imposed in the United States, otherwise we will have discordant energy and environment policies and so some choices have to be made south of the border,” Prentice said.

Prentice said Canada hopes to harmonize its emission reduction targets with United States and Mexico.

But seeing that nothing is likely to happen politically on climate in the US for a while (at least this year), this could be a recipe for inaction on Canada’s behalf.