Dutch bank ING Groep said it is selling US$120 million worth od shares of its loan for the Dakota Access pipeline Tuesday, the first bank to offload its debt from the project, which faced fierce opposition from Native Americans and environmental groups.
The announcement came one month after ING's head of business ethics met with a representative of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, which led a months-long protest to stop completion of the US$3.8 billion pipeline.
At that meeting, ING said it would either continue to "positively influence" the course of the project or "distance itself by selling its stake in the loan," the company said in a press release.
With oil set to start flowing through the 1,172-mile pipeline as soon as this week and after a U.S. judge last week ruled against the tribes seeking to stop its completion, ING said there was less room for lenders to influence the project.
ING was one of 17 banks financing the Energy Transfer Partners LP’s pipeline, led by Citibank, for a total of US$2.5 billion in credit. The pipeline will move crude from the Northern Plains to the Midwest and then on to the Gulf of Mexico.
ING said it would send "a valuable message" by selling its loan and calling for "respectful dialogue" with tribes in major infrastructure project transactions.
“We are heartened that ING has made the conscious decision to remove itself from a project that tramples on the rights of sovereign nations,” Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault said in a statement.
Under the agreement, the undisclosed buyer of the ING loan said it would "support the importance of a respectful dialogue with the Tribe and other affected groups."
In February, law enforcement swept through an encampment occupied since August on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers property at the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, after President Donald Trump issued an executive order directing the corps to grant an easement allowing the project to proceed.
Since then efforts to convince banks and lenders to divest from the pipeline have been gaining momentum as four U.S. cities, San Francisco, Seattle, Davis and Santa Monica, have divested from Wells Fargo, one of the banks lending money to the Dakota Access pipeline.
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe water protectors and their allies argue that the pipeline is being built on sacred land and could damage the area's water sources.
The action against the pipeline attracted more than 300 Native American tribes from across the United States in a show of unity and force.
The protests last year also gained international support. Earlier this week, Norway’s largest private investor said it was divesting more than US$30 million from three companies linked to the Dakota Access pipeline.