As temperatures drop on the northern plains, protesters trying to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline have expanded the reach of their protest. Declaring December a “Global Month of Actions,” the group is calling upon supporters around the world to go after the financial footing of the pipeline project by protesting at local banks and to protest sheriff’s departments that are sending personnel to help Morton County law enforcement.
On December 1, protesters organized demonstrations in 29 states and several different countries. A calendar posted on the protest group’s website listed a total of 83 planned actions, primarily protests outside of banks. In Minneapolis, protesters arrived at new Wells Fargo offices and the US Bank Stadium to close their accounts and stand in protest. At the Wells Fargo offices downtown, six protesters locked their arms together to block access to the elevators for about four hours. The group left after they said they had received a letter from the bank promising to meet with tribal leaders.
According to a picture of the letter shared on social media, Wells Fargo offered “to meet with a select group of tribal elders to discuss their concerns related to Wells Fargo’s investment” before the end of the year. In Minnesota, the protest group was led by several organizations, including Native Lives Matter and MN350, an environmentalist group.
Other banks targeted for protests include Citibank, ING Bank, and SunTrust bank. According to the protesters, the pipeline project needs $2.5 billion in loans. Of this, $1.4 billion remains on hold until the Army Corps of Engineers grants the final easement access. This allows the protesters a window in which to try to persuade the banks involved to cut their lines of credit.
So far the group has already achieved some success in getting banks to reconsider their connection with the pipeline project. In early November, the Norwegian bank DNB announced that it would reconsider financing the pipeline if the protesters’ concerns were not addressed. Ten days later, it sold its stake in the project.
“DNB looks with worry at how the situation around the pipeline in North Dakota has developed. The bank will therefore take initiative and use its position to bring about a more constructive process to find a solution to the conflict,” the bank said in a statement.
“If these initiatives do not give appeasing answers and results, DNB will consider its further involvement in the financing of the project.”
In the end, financial concerns, rather than environmental impact, may prove to be the most difficult barrier to the project’s completion. The protests have led to unexpected project delays and increased construction costs. Already, Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, has been acquired by Sunoco Logistics Partners in a stock deal valued at roughly $21 billion.
On top of the monetary costs, the project is backing up against a firm deadline. Energy Transfer Partners is contractually obligated to complete the project by January 1, 2017. If it cannot meet that deadline, companies that agreed to ship oil through the pipeline have the right to rescind or renegotiate their commitments. Since the original agreements were signed in 2014, when fracking was booming and oil prices relatively high, many companies will likely wish to negotiate cheaper shipping costs. If enough of them did so, DAPL could end up being a half-completed pipeline without oil to run through it.