Citizens Bank Withdraws Fossil-Fuel Pipeline Loan

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News 

PROVIDENCE — Citizens Financial Group isn’t saying whether its decision to withdraw from a loan to fund a controversial pipeline company was motivated by public pressure or any other reason. Nevertheless, the Rhode Island-based bank and financial services company is no longer party to a multibillion-dollar line of credit to Energy Transfer Partners, according to federal reports.

Energy Transfer Partners, based in Dallas, develops and owns oil, natural-gas and propane pipelines, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and the Bayou Bridge pipeline. It also owns Sunoco gas stations.

Last August Energy Transfer Partners filed a lawsuit against activist groups Greenpeace, Earth First! and BankTrack for disrupting DAPL pipeline construction and facilitating acts of terrorism. The case is still being considered in U.S. District Court in North Dakota.

Energy Transfer Partners received praise on Wall Street for a recent surge in profits, which was due to the start of running oil through the Dakota Access Pipeline, also known as the Bakken pipeline.

During the past two years, local environmental groups such as The FANG Collective and Shame on Citizens Bank have held demonstrations at bank branches and offices. Three protesters were arrested last year when they chained themselves to the entrance of the bank’s downtown headquarters. Other protests have urged customers to close their accounts.

The FANG Collective learned that Citizens was no longer part of the loan through Securities and Exchange Commission documents published Dec. 6, 2017. Citizens didn't release any statement on withdrawing the $4 billion line of credit. A spokesperson declined to comment.

According to the bank's Code of Conduct and Ethics, Citizens says it strives “to avoid adverse impact and injury to the environment and communities in which we conduct our business.”

The bank has been criticized for clear-cutting 60-plus acres in Johnston to build an office park. The Providence City Council failed to divest city funds from the bank last March. Last month, Citizens' stock price took a hit after the bank was linked to a loan connected to President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

August Guang of Shame of Citizens Bank said the bank's decision to stop lending to Energy Transfer Partners is a victory, even if the bank’s motive isn't public.

“It’s definitely something celebrate, but it’s not really over,” said Guang, noting that other financial institutions are still lending to Energy Transfer Partners.

Wells Fargo and Citibank are currently the main backers of Energy Transfer Partners.

The FANG Collective has organized other protests against financial institutions for their work with fossil-fuel companies. On Feb. 27, the group disrupted a recruiting event hosted by Morgan Stanley at Brown University for the Wall Street bank’s investment in Bayou Bridge Pipeline, which delivers oil through the 1,172-mile Dakota Access pipeline from North Dakota to export terminals in Louisiana.

“I think financial institutions are understanding more and more that if they do invest in pipeline infrastructure they are going to feel pressure. I don't think they want to deal with it,” said Nick Katkevich of The FANG Collective.