France to Ban Oil and Gas Extraction: US Bank Breaks Vow to Ban Oil Pipeline Investments
December 22, 2017
Ruth Milka / NationofChange & Sharon Kelly / DeSmogBlog
In a major victory for the planet, French parliament has passed a law that bans all exploration and production of oil and natural gas by 2040 within France and all its overseas territories. Meanwhile, US Bank (which announced it would be the first large American bank to completely halt loans for oil and gas pipeline projects) has quietly offered a $4 billion loan to the company behind the Dakota Access pipeline project.
France Becomes First Country to Ban Fracking and Oil Production
The plan is part of France's commitment to the
Paris Climate Agreement, and their larger plan of
weaning the French economy from fossil fuels
Ruth Milka / NationofChange
(December 21, 2017) -- In a major victory for the planet, French parliament passed a law on Tuesday that bans all exploration and production of oil and natural gas by 2040 within France and all its overseas territories.
The ban states that France will not grant new permits nor renew existing licenses that allow fracking or the extraction of fossil fuels.
French President Emmanuel Macron showed his pride for the approval of the law on Twitter:
Very proud that France has become the first country in the world today to ban any new oil exploration licences with immediate effect and all oil extraction by 2040. #KeepItInTheGround #MakeOurPoanetGreatAgain
The plan is part of France's commitment to the Paris climate agreement, and their larger plan of weaning the French economy from fossil fuels.
Although some consider the ban "symbolic" due to the fact that France already is 99 percent dependent on hydrocarbon imports and only produces about 16,000 barrels a day, the country is still leading the way in the fight to curb emissions.
Socialist lawmaker Delphine Batho stated she hopes that the ban will be "contagious."
France's other major pledges under the Paris climate agreement include a 40 percent emissions reduction by 2030 and a 75 percent emissions reduction by 2050. The United States could use to follow their example, rather than attempting to wiggle out of the Paris Climate Agreement.
US Bank Declares End to Oil and Gas Pipeline Loans --
Then Quietly Joins $4 Billion Deal with Dakota Access Owner
Sharon Kelly / DeSmogBlog Investigation
(December 21, 2017) -- At a shareholder meeting this past spring, US Bank announced it would be the first large American bank to completely stop issuing loans for oil and gas pipeline construction projects. Environmental groups, indigenous activists, and divestment advocates hailed US Bank's announcement as a triumph.
Yet that triumph -- and the bank's commitment -- seems less sure with the news that US Bank has entered into a new $4 billion loan deal with the company behind the contentious Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL).
For months, the bank had been under fire for financing the Dakota Access pipeline by providing over a quarter billion dollars worth of funding to its builder, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP). Environmentalists famously dropped a banner calling on US Bank to divest from DAPL at the New Years 2017 Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears football game.
The language of the bank's new policy seemed blunt.
"The company does not provide project financing for the construction of oil or natural gas pipelines," US Bancorp, parent company of US Bank, wrote in its April 2017 Environmental Responsibility Policy.
Divestment advocates cheered. "We applaud this progressive decision from US Bank," an Honor the Earth representative said in a statement, as the bank's new policy made headlines.
Some advocates remained skeptical, however, pointing out that the line of credit extended to Energy Transfer Partners wouldn't be covered by that language, because it could be considered a loan for the company as a whole, not the more specific "project financing." And US Bank's CEO told shareholders that his bank wouldn't end its existing Energy Transfer Partners deal, saying that instead it would "fulfill that contract and commitment."
"We know there are always loopholes through which banks will try to pass off responsibility," Rachel Heaton of Mazaska Talks and a Muckleshoot Tribe member told Yes Magazine, "but we will continue to resist until these banks completely divest from all pipeline and fossil fuel corporations and incorporate the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of Indigenous peoples into their corporate lending structures."
Even if that specific contract wasn't going to be torn up, environmental groups hoped that in the future, the bank would limit its funding of fossil fuel projects.
CEO Andy Cecere "strongly implied that the bank would pull back from pipelines and ETP in particular -- aside from its obligations under its 'contract with ETP' (i.e. its existing credit facility)," Brant Olson, Program Director at ClimateTruth.org, told DeSmog.
US Bank's new environmental policy added that any new deals the bank did with companies in the oil and gas pipeline industry would have to undergo additional scrutiny, including a look at their environmental record.
"We want to confirm that a firm's policies and processes are sound and effective as they relate to the environment and the community in which it operates," the policy adds. "In accordance with our environmental responsibility commitment, we prohibit relationships with customers who participate in any illegal activities."
Transferring More Money to Energy Transfer Partners
That's why it was so striking when Energy Transfer Partners quietly announced in a December 1 Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing that US Bank was part of ETP's new $4 billion credit deal.
ETP's projects include numerous controversial fossil fuel pipelines nationwide, including not only Dakota Access, but also Mariner East 2, Rover, Bayou Bridge, and the Energy Transfer Crude Oil pipeline.
Asked whether Energy Transfer Partners had passed muster during the additional due diligence in US Bank's much-lauded environmental review policy, US Bank's spokesperson Cheryl Leamon declined to comment. "As a matter of policy, we do not discuss customer relationships," she told DeSmog in an email.
Environmentalists hoped that this was a chance for US Bank to end its dealings with ETP. StopETP.org, a coalition of national and local environmental and indigenous rights groups, wrote a letter to the bank in November, urging it to use the chance to cut ties with ETP, which was seeking to renew its $4 billion credit line in a deal involving numerous major banks.
But US Bank has apparently refused, said Food and Water Watch senior researcher Dr. Hugh MacMillan, "after having scored praise back in May for its new pipeline finance policy."
US Bank did not respond when asked about the types of law-breaking that might cross the line and cause a borrower to fail the bank's new due diligence requirements.
The bank's professed wariness of fossil fuel companies had drawn an angry response from the Energy Equipment and Infrastructure Alliance, which had fired off a letter to US Bank protesting the new policy. "This creates the presumption that firms and people involved in these areas, including those providing construction, equipment, materials, services or other support to these operations, are more likely than all others to be 'bad actors'," the trade group wrote, "thus requiring a higher level of scrutiny."
That additional environmental record review was widely expected to be particularly bad news for Energy Transfer Partners, which has an environmental record that includes over 300 pipeline incidents in the past decade, causing over $67 million dollars in property damage, according to data from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
"From January 2010 through June 2017, ETP spilled hazardous liquids near water crossings more than twice as frequently as any other pipeline company in the United States this decade [and w]as responsible for almost 20 percent of all hazardous liquid spills near water crossings," a recently published report by the Waterkeeper Alliance notes.
In November, one of Energy Transfer Partners' pipeline projects was sued by Ohio's Environmental Protection Agency over 13 violations of the state's environmental laws, including spewing millions of gallons of drilling fluid into the state's wetlands.
"Among other things, ETP has caused seven industrial spills during the construction of the $4.2 billion natural gas pipeline through Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Michigan," Reps. Frank Pallone, Jr. and Maria Cantwell, ranking members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and Energy and Natural Resources, respectively, wrote in a July 27, 2017 letter to federal regulators decrying ETP's track record on complying with environmental laws.
The company's spill record has even drawn concern from investors, with The Street reporting, "'Energy Transfer seems to have an approach where they stick to the minimum requirements instead of exceeding them,' Genscape natural gas analyst Colette Breshears said."
Sunoco Logistics, which merged into ETP last year, had the worst oil spill record of any company in the industry, a 2016 Reuters investigative report found.
Sharon Kelly is an attorney and freelance writer based in Philadelphia. She has reported for The New York Times, The Nation, National Wildlife, Earth Island Journal, and a variety of other publications. Prior to beginning freelance writing, she worked as a law clerk for the ACLU of Delaware.
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