Here’s a funny expression for you: “green tar sands.” You will be forgiven if you assume that the only way tar sands could be green would be if you mixed in a healthy dose of food dye and/or were given tinted glasses from the lost-and-found at Studio 54.

A group of investors is a bit more optimistic. Not “clean coal”-never-gonna-happen optimistic, but actually, you know, optimistic. Their argument: tar-sand extraction — boon to Alberta and bane of Keystone XL pipeline protestors — could be greener.

From the Financial Times (registration required):

A group of 49 investors with more than $2tn under management is launching an initiative on Monday to put pressure on companies operating in the Canadian oil sands to improve their environmental performance.

The investors accept that the production from the oil sands of Alberta is going to rise, but want companies such as BP, ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell, Statoil and Total that are active there to curb their greenhouse gas emissions and water use.

They argue that environmental impacts could create a significant threat to future earnings, for example if production has to be curbed as a result of water shortages, or regulations on greenhouse gases make the oil sands uncompetitive.

This, but, you know, green.

So that’s good, I guess? But there’s a pretty big “oh, by the way” missing here.

However, there are still widespread concerns about the environmental effects of oil sands production, reflected in threats such as the opposition to Keystone XL and proposed fuel standards in the EU and California.

Uh, yeah. There are. Mostly because the produced oil is highly toxic and massively carbon-intensive?

Which is why the part about production being curbed due to water shortages is ironic. You know what else causes water shortages? Endemic drought. Which is the sort of thing that results from combusting a lot of tar-sands oil.

Maybe, then, a slight rejiggering of the phrase: “slightly greener tar sands over the very short-term.” Clunky, but accurate.