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Wells Fargo joins megabank peers in announcing it’s ending Arctic oil investment

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

A third major U.S. bank has announced it will not support financing for oil and gas projects in the Arctic.

Wells Fargo & Co. called out the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Alaska’s North Slope as an area it will avoid, joining Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase in disclosing that it will not support investments for Arctic oil projects.

“Wells Fargo does not directly finance oil and gas projects in the Arctic region, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) – part of a larger 2018 risk-based decision to forego participation in any project-specific transaction in the region,” the bank’s updated policy language says.

Wells Fargo’s disclosure comes as the Trump administration takes steps to lease tracts in the refuge’s coastal plain, setting the stage for drilling after Congress approved it in 2017.

Conservation groups and Gwich’in tribal members have pressed banks to reject support for investments in the refuge as part of a larger plan to combat climate change. Other Alaska leaders, including Inupiat leaders, have urged the banks to refuse those pleas, citing Alaska’s environmental standards and the state’s economic dependence on oil development.

Some oil industry insiders in Alaska have expressed concern that reduced financial support for Arctic drilling could threaten future projects.

Wells Fargo is the largest bank in the state, holding $6.1 billion in deposits. That’s more than twice as much as the nearest competitor, First National Bank of Alaska, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

David Kennedy, a spokesman with Wells Fargo, said the San Francisco-based bank had made an internal decision about its support for Arctic drilling in 2018. It recently updated its environmental and social risk policy, he said.

“We made (the Arctic policy) a little more public recently," he said in an interview on Monday.

“Our policy applies only to project finance in the region,” the bank said in a prepared statement emailed by Kennedy. “We have ongoing business relationships with numerous companies involved in the oil and gas industry in the Alaska Arctic region and expect to continue those relationships long into the future.”

“We respect the conversation around conventional energy development — its importance to local economies, its necessity today in our daily lives, concerns about the need to transition to a low-carbon economy, and concerns about the potential impact of energy development on communities and the environment,” the statement said.

Goldman Sachs announced its policy in December. JPMorgan followed in February. Alaska leaders, angered by the bank’s decision, removed Goldman Sachs from the state’s billion-dollar bond plan. The Dunleavy administration is also reviewing JPMorgan’s ties with the state.

In January, BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, urged companies to emphasize steps they are taking to combat global warming.

D.J. Fauske, a spokesman with the North Slope Borough, said borough officials are internally weighing a response. The North Slope Borough relies heavily on revenues from the oil industry.

Borough Mayor Harry Brower Jr. wrote an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal in January attacking Goldman Sachs for not reaching out to Alaska Natives in the region who support oil and gas development.

Wells Fargo is the only bank available in Utqiagvik, where the borough is based. The borough banks with the institution, Fauske said.

“(Brower) is very disappointed that his region and people are being unfairly targeted and even blamed now for the changing Arctic,” Fauske said.

Wells Fargo’s decision also drew strong reactions from some Alaska lawmakers speaking on the state House floor on Monday.

Rep. Bart LeBon, R-Fairbanks, a former executive vice president of Mt. McKinley Bank, said that given Monday’s news, people should “reevaluate your banking choices if you live and work in Alaska.”

Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, said Alaska is “under attack” by Alaska Airlines’ decision to drop its Iditarod sponsorship and Wells Fargo’s decision about Arctic oil and gas development.

“It’s time that we push back, it’s time to start speaking with our wallets,” she said.

Reporter James Brooks contributed.

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