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As Banks and Investors Reject Arctic Drilling, Where is Wells Fargo?

WASHINGTON - In the United States and around the world, the movement demanding divestment from fossil fuel projects that threaten our climate and communities is gaining momentum. Institutions including insurers, churches, universities, and major cities have made recent commitments to divest from fossil fuels, and Ireland recently became the first country to commit to sell off all its fossil fuel assets.

A growing number of major international financial institutions are taking note, and many have responded with public statements that they will not support some of the most damaging fossil fuel extraction projects, including oil and gas drilling in the Arctic. Some of the world’s largest banks have made such commitments, including HSBC, BNP Paribas, Royal Bank of Scotland, Societe Generale, and others.

In response to the Trump administration’s plans to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling, banks are facing pressure to make specific commitments not to fund drilling in this unique, untouched wilderness. In May, a group of institutional investors representing more than $2.5 trillion in assets sent a letter to 100 oil companies and 30 major banks urging them not to invest in drilling in the Arctic Refuge, citing climate and human rights concerns as well as economic and reputational risks.

Amid the growing chorus of condemnation for drilling in the Arctic region and specifically in the Arctic Refuge, Wells Fargo has been silent.

The bank has significant investments in dirty fossil fuel projects. From 2015 to 2017, Wells Fargo provided over $4.6 billion in financing for extreme fossil fuels like tar sands, ultra-deepwater oil, Arctic oil, and coal. The bank is also a key funder of the companies behind the controversial Dakota Access pipeline and the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

These investments -- as well as recent scandals regarding its discriminatory lending practices, funding for the gun industry, private prisons, and more -- have attracted public outrage and prompted cities and individuals to pull their money from Wells Fargo.

With their reputation already in tatters, Wells Fargo can’t afford to take another hit by supporting unpopular drilling in the Arctic Refuge.

Drilling in the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge would threaten Indigenous rights, industrialize one of America’s last wild places, and eventually unleash the climate emissions equivalent of 898 coal plants. Not surprisingly, drilling in the Refuge is wildly unpopular among the American public, and would only be more so in the all too likely event of a disastrous spill. Hundreds of people have turned out to protest the Department of the Interior’s public hearings on the plan, and hundreds of thousands more submitted comments opposing drilling in the Arctic Refuge.

Wells Fargo has a choice to make: they can expose themselves to further reputational damage and public backlash by supporting unpopular drilling in the Arctic Refuge, or they can be proactive and take a step towards regaining goodwill by pledging not to support drilling in this special place. The public will be watching which option they choose.

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The Sierra Club is the oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States. It was founded on May 28, 1892 in San Francisco, California by the well-known conservationist and preservationist John Muir, who became its first president. The Sierra Club has hundreds of thousands of members in chapters located throughout the US, and is affiliated with Sierra Club Canada.

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