Three Canadian banks are among the more than two dozen financial institutions identified as backers of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline and its associated companies. The pipeline has been the focus of intense opposition from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota, who fear that a spill would poison their water supply, as well as from other Native Americans, Indigenous peoples in Canada, and environmentalists.
The planned pipeline would bring oil from North Dakota to Illinois, but has faced growing scrutiny in recent weeks. On Saturday, Democracy Now filmed construction site security guards attacking protesters with dogs and pepper spray. On Thursday it was reported that the North Dakota National Guard will be activated.
TD subsidiary TD Securities, an investigation has revealed, is one of the seventeen banks that have provided project-level loans to Dakota Access LLC. It has the seventh largest commitment ($360 million) out of these seventeen banks. An overlapping group of banks are also, according to data from Hugh MacMillan, a senior researcher with consumer advocacy group Food and Water Watch, financing the conversion of a second oil pipeline that would run from the southern end of Dakota Access to the Gulf.
TD Securities is also financing Sunoco Logistics, a member of the Energy Transfer corporate family, and two of its companies (Sunoco Logistics and Energy Transfer Partners) partly own the joint venture of Dakota Access LLC.
In response to a query about the financing, TD Securities provided a statement to Ricochet which read, "TD supports responsible energy development. We employ due diligence in our lending and investing activities relating to energy production. We also work with our customers, community and environment groups, and energy clients to better understand key issues of concern, and to promote informed dialogue. Our oil and gas sector lending represents less than 1% of our total lending portfolio."
Scotiabank is also identified as a lender to Sunoco Logistics only, while the Royal Bank of Canada has commitments to all three Energy Transfer family corporate credit lines. Neither provide project-level loans to Dakota Access LLC, however. The Royal Bank has also been accused of a conflict of interest after they recently upgraded their assessment of Enbridge, a part owner of the Bakken Pipeline System which includes the Dakota access line, encouraging investors to buy its stock even as the bank helps to fund one of its signature projects.
‘An involuntary Facebook for the 1 per cent’
The initial data on the banks behind the pipeline was published by LittleSis, a project of the Public Accountability Initiative that tracks high-level connections between businesses and government and describes itself as "an involuntary Facebook of the one per cent." Its author is Hugh MacMillan, of Food and Water Watch.
The data MacMillan collected shows relationships between banks and some of the companies, known as the Energy Transfer family, that own the Dakota Access LLC joint venture.
"This new information is showing the 17 banks that have collectively provided $2.5 billion for direct project-level financing of the Dakota Access or, more broadly, the Bakken crude pipeline,” MacMillan told Ricochet, adding that the publication was made possible through collaboration with Rainforest Action Network's Alison Kirsch, who provided data via a Bloomberg Terminal.
A protest is planned outside a TD Canada Trust in Vancouver on Sep. 12 and organizers are "demanding that these banks and lenders cut off all lines of credit to the pipeline companies and stop funding the DAPL."
RBC's commitment stands out because of its focus on environmental initiatives, particularly on its well-advertised Blue Water Project. RBC calls the initative "a 10-year global charitable commitment of $50 million to help provide access to drinkable, swimmable, fishable water, now and for future generations." The poisoning of drinkable water is the central concern of Native American activists who oppose the pipeline.
RBC provided this brief statement to Ricochet: "Thank you for your inquiry. Please note that RBC is not involved in the financing of this project,” referring to Dakota Access LLC.
A spokesperson confirmed over the phone that RBC was financing the Energy Transfer family companies, but declined to comment further.
RBC agreed to accept questions in writing but a response was not received by publication time. One of the questions sought a response to Standing Rock Sioux Chair David Archambault's criticism that Energy Transfer Partners has "no social responsibility" and that the firm hired companies with untrained dog handlers.
Phone calls and emails to Scotiabank were not returned.
Conflict of interest?
Asked about the implications for corporate social responsibility and for RBC specifically, MacMillan said that the investigation "shows that at times these corporate sustainability efforts are lip service when it comes to the bottom lines of these companies."
MacMillan also identified to Ricochet what "clearly appears to be a conflict of interest" specific to RBC.
"Royal Bank of Canada [recently] upgraded its analysis of how Enbridge would be performing, suggesting the company would be outperforming and that it's a strong buy for its investors, to follow the Royal Bank of Canada's advice. So it's interesting that RBC is providing that recommendation at the same time that it's providing $350 million to the Energy Transfer family of companies. I would imagine that it's likewise helping Enbridge with its own capital needs."
Energy Transfer companies, as well as Enbridge, along with Phillip 66 and Marathon Oil form the Dakota Access LLC joint venture, MacMillan explained.
"The Royal Bank of Canada is in line with the largest banks in the U.S. In line in that North American energy security—they're equating that with widespread fracking, they're equating it with maximizing production of oil and gas. And we know that that's exactly what we can't afford when it comes to the stability of our climate. We need to maximize what we're keeping in the ground."
MacMillan also acknowledged the consequences that banks could face from more public awareness. Groups such as Move Your Money and Fossil Free Canada encourage cutting ties with banks that finance fossil fuel projects.
"It's important that people are aware of the influence of banks on the energy system and our continued dependence on fossil fuels. One way that people can avoid playing a part in that is to utilize banks that are not engaging in these investments."
Indigenous people in Canada and others have been traveling to North Dakota in recent days to express solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux. Acts of resistance have also spread to other U.S. states, while media coverage of the attacks on Native American protesters on Saturday has also spurred public outcry.
Representative David Greendeer is a legislator with the Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin, one of the many Native American groups that have sent letters of support to the Standing Rock Sioux. Greendeer explained that the Ho-Chunk Nation's motivation stemmed from it being affected by the sand mining industry in Wisconsin and that much of the fracking sand used on the Bakken oilfield comes from the state.
"We wanted to make sure that the support that we offered to them was to let them know that we are praying for their water, we are praying for their land, we are praying for their people. We don't see this as a protest. We don't really see this as a fight. We don't see it from that perspective. The Mother Earth and the Creator have a calling. We are the Creator's people. We have a duty to take care of this."
Greendeer said he is not surprised by Saturday’s attack. He expressed concern for the tribe's ability to cope with the influx of supporters and for the risk that the tribe will be blamed for any disorder.
"The tribe didn't ask for people to come there and fight. The tribe asked them to come there and to help protect and pray. Those are two very different perspectives."
Revelations no surprise to coalition members
Angie Carter, a board member with the Women, Food and Agriculture Network, itself a member of the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition, is concerned about the impact of the pipeline on Indigenous groups, women, and the water and farmland that it will cross. Members of the coalition were among those recently arrested in central Iowa when they tried to halt construction activity by forming human chains.
She responded to the revelations of MacMillan's work in a phone interview with Ricochet on Wednesday evening.
"I don't think many of us who have been involved in this work were very surprised. We're grateful that it's being made public now and that it's been found out and that these connections between the banks and industry [are revealed]. We've long known that the banks have been taking advantage of and exploiting vulnerable people throughout the mortgage crisis and our financial recession. But to see, also, their investment in extractive energy it helps us to understand the complicitness of big banks and their ties to our government officials."
She also responded to the attacks which injured protesters.
"We were sickened and disgusted by those stories. It was horrifying to see that footage. I think that was very shocking for many people. Even though we knew that we were at great risk and that oil companies will resort to all sorts of things to protect their investments, I think that that footage shocks people,” Carter said.
In some of the footage, Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman can be heard asking, her voice raised, "Why are you letting her dog go after the protesters? It's covered in blood!" Goodman later interviewed an expert in law enforcement canine handling who opined that the security guards appeared to lack training and to have used excessive force, and shared that she is making a complaint against the state of Ohio over the dogs' licensing. Archambault, the Standing Rock Sioux leader, has called for investigations over the incident.
Brenda Brink, an activist with Bakken Pipeline Resistance from Huxley, Iowa, witnessed a smudging ceremony on Sunday at the site of the attack that was meant to bring healing. She expressed worry about the escalating tension.
"I'm concerned that the fierceness and the determination up in North Dakota is going to lead to someone actually getting killed. It's to that point now. The Governor's ordered the National Guard to the protect the workers. To protect the workers, not the tribes that have legitimate concerns,” she said.
Brink also reacted to MacMillan's investigation.
"It's pretty much infuriating,” she said, adding that it compounds existing discontent over the lack of justice following the 2008 financial crisis. "Here we are again, and the banks have just operated with impunity. We are up against the most powerful force on the globe. And I do believe that. The money that is behind all this is overwhelming."
But Brink also expressed skepticism over the effectiveness of boycotts and divestment, at least in the short-term efforts to stop the pipeline.
"When it comes right down to it, what's going to stop the pipeline? It's only going to be public outrage. We're not law breakers. We're people that are showing you that the law is unjust."