Stung by harsh criticism over their involvement in the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline project, Norway’s huge Oil Fund and its biggest bank are both signaling a re-evaluation. DNB issued a press release on Sunday stating its concerns and raising the possibility that it will, as protesters demand, withdraw its financing.
“Our policy is clear, that we only finance projects that meet DNB’s demands regarding environmental and social aspects,” stated Harald Serck-Hansen, DNB’s executive vice president in charge of international and large corporate customers. He said the bank had “intensified” its “dialogue” with its customers building the pipeline “and underscored that respect for the rights of indigenous people are a fundamental conditionfor us as a bank.”
Norway has found itself caught in the bitter conflict over construction of a pipeline from oil fields in North Dakota that will run through Sioux nation lands and under the Missouri River. The Sioux claim the pipeline will not only encroach on sacred burial grounds but also pose a hazard to their most important source of water. DNB had earlier agreed to finance around 10 percent of the project (around NOK 2.8 billion) while Norway’s sovereign wealth fund built up by oil revenues owns stakes worth nearly NOK 7 billion in companies developing the pipeline.
Protests have been going for months and support for the Sioux has spread worldwide, with Norway’s own indigenous people, the Sami, joining them. The Sami Parliament has called on the Finance Ministry’s ethics commission, which monitors Oil Fund investments, to withdraw its indirect support for the pipeline.
The Sami have since been joined by several members of the Norwegian parliament who also have demanded that financial support for the pipeline be withdrawn. “This is a conflict that Norwegian taxpayers’ money should not be invested in,” Rasmus Hansson of Norway’s Greens Party told newspaper Aftenposten over the weekend. On Sunday, Aftenposten reported that the Oil Fund’s ethics committee had decided to evaluate whether the pipeline development companies should be stricken from the Oil Fund’s portfolio.
DNB is feeling the heat too, after both customers and other angry Norwegians launched an online protest and customers threatened to close their DNB accounts. On Sunday, DNB seemed to be waving a white flag as protests also took place in Oslo.
“DNB views with concern how the situation around the pipeline in North Dakota has developed,” DNB stated. “The bank will therefore take the initiative and use its position to have infuence on a more constructive process to find solutions to the conflict that has arisen. If these initiatives don’t lead to satisfactory answers and results, DNB will re-evaluate its further participation in the financing of the project.”
Serck-Hanssen said DNB was also urging ongoing dialogue with the indigenous people who are affected. “We have expectations that both the companies (DNB’s borrowers in the US) and responsible authorities will take the situation seriously, contribute towards dampening the conflict level and show willingness to find acceptable solutions.”
DNB said it also had registered that both international organizations and federal authorities in the US were engaging themselves more strongly. Amnesty International, for example, is sending observers to the Sioux’ Standing Rock Reservation to monitor how local police and other authorities are reacting to the protest demonstrations, through arrests and deportations. The UN is investigating whether the pipeline violates the Sioux’ human rights and US President Barack Obama has also indicated he will respond as well.