Major Norwegian bank DNB is fending off more trouble over its involvement in the highly controversial Dakota Access Pipeline project in the US. An equally controversial decision by new US President Donald Trump to restart work on the pipeline has put DNB’s financing of it in question once again.
Newspaper Dagsavisen reported just before the weekend that environmental organization Greenpeace has hurled new accusations that DNB is helping make it possible for construction of the pipeline to resume. The pipeline has been the target of massive demonstrations, also in Oslo and involving Norway’s indigenous Sami peoples, because it will run through land that’s sacred to the Sioux nation and threatens to contaminate their drinking water. The Sioux claim their human rights are being violated by the pipeline, which had been at least temporarily halted by former US President Barack Obama before he left office.
Several major players in Norway’s business and finance industry were found to be involved in the pipeline, bringing the US controversy closer to home and infuriating many Norwegians, especially those with accounts at DNB. DNB, other major banks like Nordea and Norway’s own huge sovereign wealth fund thus promised to re-evaluate their involvement both in terms of pipeline financing or investments in the companies behind the pipeline: Dakota Access Pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, Sunoco Logistics and Phillips 66.
Now Greenpeace claims that DNB is still involved in a new loan to the pipeline developers amounting to NOK 18 billion (around USD 2.1 billion). “DNB should be ashamed of itself,” claimed Truls Gulowsen, leader of Greenpeace Norge. He added that the bank should “stop dealing with these companies and cancel all loan agreements that make it possible to construct this pipeline in the Dakotas.”
‘Refinancing, not new financing’
While Nordea is reportedly going along with Greenpeace’s demands to recommend blacklisting investments in the companies, DNB is the target of new protests over what it claims is merely a “refinancing” of existing loans, not new ones. DNB also claims its new loans are not tied directly to the pipeline but rather to one of the companies (Energy Transfer) that also operates many other energy projects.
“DNB has been crystal clear that we don’t want to contribute to any violations of human rights or other rights of indigenous peoples,” said Even Westerveld, communications director for DNB. “We have therefore taken the initiative to launch an independent examination to get all the facts on the table regarding how the indigenous peoples have been included in the pipeline process.”
Until that examination has been completed, Westerveld insisted that “DNB would not be lending out any more money to the project the companies behind it.” He also denied that DNB had contributed any new capital to the project through its DNB Markets unit. He confirmed that DNB Markets had sold off its stakes in the companies late last year.
Gulowsen was not convinced. “Regardless of whether DNB is refinancing existing loans, this still gives the company (Energy Transfer) access to capital,” he argued. “If they didn’t get refinancing, they wouldn’t have new capital. A ‘new loan’ or ‘new refinancing’ is just a matter of semantics.”
He claimed that it “remains a problem that DNB is making it possible for a pipeline builder to obtain refinancing at the same time DNB says the company is so bad that it won’t own stock in it,” Gulowsen said. As more demonstrations resume in response to Trump’s reversal of Obama’s restraining order on the project, Norway’s Sami also claimed last week that it was still standing by Standing Rock, referring to the Sioux nation’s reservation that is most threatened by the pipeline.