Back in April, I noted that the oil sands were shifting under Total SA's (NYSE:TOT) feet. With the backdrop of lower oil prices and a decidedly shaky macro environment, the company was delaying its decision regarding the development of its massive Joslyn project, shared with partner Occidental Petroleum (NYSE:OXY), as well as the less high-profile INPEX and Laricina Energy.

Notably, Total also said it was dropping its attempted takeover of UTS Energy, a partner in Suncor's (NYSE:SU) and Teck Resources' (NYSE:TCK) Fort Hills project. True to its word, the company simply walked away. So has Total Canada's CEO, though he remains with the company in a different role.

The new man at the helm, Jean-Michel Gires, is a company veteran who has focused his energies on sustainable development and environmental matters. This seems a logical choice, given the lightning rod that the oil sands have become. Just last month, we saw protest actions by Greenpeace at both Suncor's and Royal Dutch Shell's (NYSE:RDS-A) (NYSE:RDS-B) oil sands operations. Gires is credited with earning Total the top spot among global oil & gas companies in Dow Jones' sustainability rankings. Joslyn, a bitumen mining operation seeking ultimate production of 200,000 barrels per day, could use all the green cred it can get.

That is, if Total ever decides to move ahead with the monster. This week, Gires stated that Total needs to see $80- to $85-a-barrel oil in order to move ahead with Joslyn. That's actually a touch lower than the $85 to $90 range the company was talking about last December. A final investment decision on Joslyn now looks like a late 2011 event, with a potential production start date in the 2016 to 2018 time frame.

Given the medium-to long-term term outlook for oil, I do expect Total to make the huge investment required to get this project up and running. If you believe that oil prices are headed back above $100 in the years and decades ahead, you may be happy to see these barrels left in the ground for now. By the middle of the next decade, I also expect that oil-sands recovery techniques will have advanced, reducing at least some of the controversial environmental aspects of the project. Viewed in this way, there are some benefits evident in this delay.

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Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.