Norway’s Largest Bank Divests From Dakota Access, Launches Own Investigation

Up to $460 million in credit is still at stake for the Bakken pipeline companies after DNB shed its pipeline assets and has begun a “fact-based evaluation” of indigenous rights abuses.

On horseback at Standing Rock, protesting DNB’s financial support for the Dakota Access pipeline. Photo by Adam Alexander Johansson.

Updated Nov. 17

Not two weeks after one of the major banks funding the Dakota Access and Bakken pipeline companies said it may withhold its funding over concerns for the treatment of the Standing Rock Sioux, it announced Nov. 17 that it has sold off all assets in the companies.

The bank, DNB, is Norway’s largest bank. And although the announcement means it has sold off about $3 million in assets, its banking division is still responsible for offering the pipeline companies several hundred million dollars in credit, about 10 percent of the project.

But the sudden divestment can be seen as an indication of which way the Norway bank is leaning.

On Nov. 6, it announced that it would be conducting its own “objective and fact-based” evaluation of how the Standing Rock Sioux were being treated. “If our initiative does not provide us with the necessary comfort,” announced Harald Serck-Hanssen, group executive vice president and head of Large Corporates and International in DNB, “DNB will evaluate its further participation in the financing of the project.”

DNB is one of a handful of banks out of a total 38 that has offered funding to all Energy Transfer entities, including direct loans to Dakota Access. Research shows that DNB bank loaned $120 million to the Bakken pipeline project and extended $460 million in credit lines to a handful of companies with ownership stakes, specifically Energy Transfer Partners, Sunoco Logistics, Phillips 66, and Marathon. 

“It’s a testament to public pressure, and the strength of the native narrative, that the Norwegian bank is admitting to questioning its own involvement,” said Hugh MacMillan, the Food & Water Watch researcher who investigated and made public the names of the 38 banks funding the Bakken pipeline. 

When MacMillan heard about the divestment on Nov. 17, he said: “It’s encouraging that DNB Fund has taken this small step.” But added, “The banking arm of DNB would now do well to cut its ties with the project entirely, and stop lending money to the companies from which DNB Fund has divested.”

“We expect that Citigroup, Wells Fargo, TD Bank, Credit Suisse, and others are also uneasy. It’s important to know that Dakota Access is just the tip of the iceberg for many of these banks, when it comes to sinking billions on maximizing U.S. production of oil and gas, in spite of climate science,” MacMillan said.

The statement from DNB, released Nov. 6, said: “DNB is concerned about how the situation surrounding the oil pipeline in North Dakota has developed. The bank will therefore use its position as lender to the project to encourage a more constructive process to find solutions.”

“We expect the companies and the responsible authorities to take a serious view of the situation,” it said.

The bank’s announcement comes nearly two months after an investigation by Food & Water Watch made public the 38 banks backing the controversial Dakota Access/Bakken pipeline. In the weeks following, YES! Magazine published the names and contact information of each bank’s CEO.  Hundreds of thousands of people shared the article on Facebook, and it was reprinted widely in other media outlets, creating an organized phone and email campaign to protest the banks’ involvement. Around the nation, direct action campaigns at bank branches and headquarters have ranged from picketing to civil disobedience ending with arrests. 

Banks reported being inundated with phone calls. Several CEO email addresses have been changed.

The Standing Rock controversy recently intensified as thousands have gathered in North Dakota to help the Standing Rock Sioux protect the area from pipeline construction. The pipeline is nearing the stage at which it would pass under the Missouri River, a drinking water supply for 18 million people. The Army Corps of Engineers has refused to give the pipeline the easement it needs, and Energy Transfer has filed a federal lawsuit compelling the government to do so.

Commenting on the news of DNB’s divestment, Greenpeace USA spokesperson Lilian Molina said: “The writing’s on the wall for the Dakota Access pipeline. People power is winning. The news that DNB has sold its assets and is considering terminating its loans is a victory for the water protectors who are fighting to stop this disaster of a project. All financial institutions with a stake in the pipeline must quickly realize that financing this project is toxic. It would be smart for them to get out ahead of the growing movement of customers looking to divest from banks that finance the destruction of our planet and ignore Indigenous rights and sovereignty. Citigroup, TD Securities, Wells Fargo, SunTrust, and the other banks backing this project should see this as a sign to get on the right side of history.” 

The Bakken pipeline includes the 1,170-mile Dakota Access pipeline plus a 700-mile pipeline from the end of the Dakota Access, in Illinois, to refineries and export facilities in Texas.

This article was updated Nov. 17, 2016, to reflect DNB’s asset divestment.

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