Wells Fargo (No. 13 on 2019 Top 50 Companies for Diversity) will not “directly finance oil and gas projects in the Arctic region, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR),” according to updated language in its policy on corporate responsibility.
The 19-million-acre Arctic Refuge is a source of food for indigenous people and is home to a diverse ecosystem of wildlife necessary to support the area, including wolves, polar bears, 200 species of birds and musk oxen.
It is the third major bank to do so after public outcry over the potential destruction of delicate and endangered ecosystems in the region.
According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), Wells Fargo is the largest bank in the state of Alaska, holding $6.1 billion in deposits. That’s more than twice as much as the First National Bank of Alaska.
This move comes after Congress ordered the government to auction off drilling rights to private extraction companies in the ANWR in 2017, though there are no set dates for those lease sales.
The Sierra Club and other environmental groups, as well as the Gwich’in, indigenous people of the Arctic region, welcomed the decision by Wells Fargo and other banks to not directly be a part of the extractive industries in the fragile Arctic environment.
“For years, we have been speaking out about the need to keep drill rigs out of our sacred lands in the Arctic Refuge, and it’s amazing that a growing number of major banks are listening,” Gwich’in Steering Committee Executive Director Bernadette Demientieff told Common Dreams. “The Arctic Refuge is critical to our people’s food security and way of life. Our human rights will not be dismissed … The fight to protect this place is far from over and we will continue to hold accountable any bank, oil company, or politician that seeks to benefit from its destruction.”
Wells Fargo has a long history in sustainability efforts. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has named Wells Fargo to its Green Power Partnership National Top 100 for using nearly 2 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of renewable energy annually, representing 100 percent of the company’s global electricity requirements. Wells Fargo ranked No. 4 on the list, DiversityInc previously reported.
The bank can still be indirectly tied to oil and gas companies in the region.
“Our policy applies only to project finance in the region,” the San Francisco-based bank said in a statement to the New York Post. “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.