Divestment of European Banks from DAPL Project in US
Por Yago Martínez Álvarez


The construction of the DAPL -Dakota Access Pipeline in the US has attracted international media attention in recent months. This interest has been mainly due to the forcefull resistance of a broad movement, led by the Sioux tribe of Standing Rock but also supported by tribal governments, other indigenous organizations, and numerous environmental and human rights organizations around the world. If constructed, the pipeline would pass under Lake Oahe and the Missouri River in North Dakota. The pipeline divides the sacred territories of the Sioux as well as the lands they were granted by treaties, and seriously threatens water resources in the region. Activists, self-styled "Water Protectors", set up permanent camps alongside pipeline construction works and were violently repressed by police and private security forces working for the project's construction companies, which used military materials and techniques to dissolve the peaceful protesters.

In December 2016, the US Army Corps of Engineers denied permission to drill under the Missouri River in response to a lawsuit filed by the Sioux tribe of Standing Rock, and requested additional environmental impact studies that temporarily halted the work. However, the election of Donald Trump to the US presidency has brought a severe blow to opponents of the DAPL. Trump, which until the end of 2015 owned more than a million dollars in shares of Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the main promoter of the DAPL, signed an executive order reversing the project shutdown days after his inauguration as President. Construction work resumed and the resistance camps were evicted. Despite these events, the "Water Protectors" continue to protest the pipeline and support the right of the Standing Rock tribe to decide on the use of their ancestral territories. They are not alone. The movement against the DAPL is growing stronger internationally, as evidenced by the support and the signs of solidarity that come from all parts of the world.

One of the increasingly successful strategies to prevent the DAPL construction is divestment in the project. Activists appeal to public and private investors to withdrawal financing for the project which involves a consortium of 17 banks from different countries. These banks finance the construction of the DAPL through loans to ETP, ETE, Sunoco, Phillips 66, Enbridge and Marathon. Financers such as Citi Group, Wells Fargo, BNP Paribas, ING and BBVA, have been targeted for activist pressure to divest. In late 2016, an international campaign was launched, with nodes in the US and several European countries, to urge these banks to abandon project financing. The #DefundDAPL campaign gathered more than 700,000 signatures around the world asking the banks to reconsider their participation in the controversial oil pipeline, and to honor principles of corporate social responsibility voluntarily adopted by many of them, especially prior consent of free and informed Native Peoples.

At the outset, most of these banks responded by arguing that the environmental and social impact studies that they had carried out prior to the disbursement of the loans had found no legal or ethical problems that would discourage DAPL funding, and that the contracts with the construction companies did not allow them to withdraw from the project. However, as the situation in North Dakota worsened, with episodes of increasingly violent repression against the "Water Protectors", the conflict became known worldwide and social pressure increased, some banks began to change their position. The consortium commissioned a report to the independent business and human rights consultancy Foley Hoag, which has not yet been made public. Some banks, such as the Dutch ABN AMRO, issued statements saying they were very concerned about developments in North Dakota and began to pressure the promoters to reach a settlement satisfactory to the Standing Rock tribe that respected their rights, including the precept of free and informed prior consent.

In early 2017, several European entities such as the Dutch ING, the Norwegian DNB or the French BNP Paribas announced the sale of the loans related to the DAPL. ING and DNB have also announced, after meeting with the representatives of the tribe, the sale of their shares in the promoting companies and the commitment not to maintain with them new financial relationships. Among the European banking entities that have not disassociated from the controversial oil pipeline is the Spanish bank BBVA. This bank, which was given the #DeFundDAPL signatures by Ecologistas en Acción last February, has just published a statement stating that its participation in the DAPL meets all social and environmental criteria established by the agreements it has entered into, that it has met with the Sioux of Standing Rock to know "firsthand their concerns" and will continue to hold talks with companies to discuss the issue. Moreover, far from questioning its continuity in the financing of the project, BBVA also participates in a new loan to the companies promoting the DAPL issued last March by the consortium and of which they have taken off ING, ABN AMRO, DBN and Italian bank Intesa San Paolo.

Despite the intransigence of BBVA and other banks that continue to finance the DAPL, the divestment campaign, termed "terrorism" by the executive director of Energy Transfer Partners, is making important gains. US cities such as Seattle, San Francisco or Santa Monica have announced their intention to break their financial ties with the DAPL, promoting companies and the banks that finance them. The California public pension fund has issued a statement urging US banks to exercise their influence as creditors so that the demands of the Standing Rock tribe are taken into consideration. In Norway, several private investors and public pension funds have sold their holdings in the companies related to the project. However, much work remains to be done, which is why we are working with investors around the world and sensitizing the shareholders of banks such as Wells Fargo or Citi Group to issue statements contrary to DAPL funding at shareholders' meetings. Although the short-term objective is to financially weaken this project in particular, it is also a matter of sending a powerful message to the bank and to the investors for the evaluation of future projects. Civil society is increasingly aware of the responsibility of funders behind infrastructure such as the DAPL, and requires them to focus on socially and environmentally responsible investments.