July 28, 2021

The big French banks behind the pipeline project fought by the Sioux

For several months, the Sioux of the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota have opposed a pipeline project that threatens ancestral cultural sites and their water sources. This infrastructure, which aims to facilitate the exploitation of shale oil in the region, has benefited from financing from several large international banks, including BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole, Société Générale and Natixis. These are now targeted by environmental activists.

For several months, hundreds of Sioux in South Dakota have opposed a pipeline project that threatens both their drinking water sources and ancestral sites. Their fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline has managed to gain worldwide attention. At the end of October, the opponents were severely repressed by the police, who made more than a hundred arrests. Behind this pipeline project, there are certainly American oil interests, galvanized by the election of Donald Trump as president, but also international financial interests, including those of the big French banks.

The Dakota Access Pipeline, which is 1,800 kilometers long, is to be used to transport shale oil extracted in North Dakota to the eastern and southern United States and beyond to the rest of the world. The Sioux of the Standing Rock reserve oppose the passage of this pipeline on their ancestral lands, on the banks of the Missouri River (read the testimony of Winona LaDuke that we published on this subject). They have garnered support from many other tribes across the United States and beyond, as well as climate justice activists. Faced with a local government totally committed to the project and a divided Obama administration [1], one of their main targets are the big international banks which finance the project and the companies which carry it.

More than a billion dollars from French banks

According to figures compiled by the NGO Food and Water Watch, French banks are involved at several levels in the Dakota Access Pipeline project, for sums exceeding one billion dollars. Crédit Agricole, Natixis and Société Générale are among the banks that have granted a loan of $ 2.5 billion specifically dedicated to financing the construction of the pipeline.

BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole and Natixis are also financing the two firms leading the project, Energy Transfer Partners and Energy Transfer Equity. Total financial exposure of French banks: nearly 450 million dollars for BNP Paribas, nearly 350 million for Crédit Agricole, 180 million for Natixis and 120 million for Société Générale.

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A coalition of environmental organizations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth sent an official letter to the “Equator Principles” association – a group of banks extolling their social and environmental responsibility – to be surprised that their members be engaged in a project that is so problematic for the environment and for the rights of the natives, in total contradiction with their commitments. All the major French banks officially adhere to the Equator Principles. Only two of the main banks involved in the project, Citigroup and the Norwegian DNB, officially reacted to these criticisms, the first by assuring that it encouraged Energy Transfer Partners to dialogue with the Sioux, the second by announcing that it would reconsider its funding [2].

Banks are now under pressure from environmental NGOs who are campaigning to encourage them to divest from coal, the most polluting of fossil energy sources. On the occasion of the 22nd Climate Conference in Marrakech, Crédit Agricole, Société Générale and BNP Paribas again made announcements on their withdrawal from coal and their commitments for the climate. This movement does not concern oil and gas at all, even when it comes to particularly problematic or polluting projects.

“We have suffered under all American presidents”

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States is not very encouraging for the Sioux of Standing Rock and other opponents of the pipeline. The new president has indeed close financial ties with Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66, two companies behind the project, which supported him in his campaign. And his new Secretary of Energy could well be Harold Hamm, the boss of the oil firm Continental Resources, which has a strong presence in the Bakken shale oil field and therefore highly interested in its export. The Sioux’s demands risk not being heard at all in Washington.

“I know there are some who are worried about the new president, reacted one of the Standing Rock activists, but I remind you that we have suffered under all American presidents since the very establishment of America … We must continue to resist and defend our right to life. “

Under such conditions, the pressure on the banks becomes all the more necessary.

Olivier Petitjean

Photo : Joe Brusky CC