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Scotiabank fifth major Canadian bank to reject drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

“Big five” Canadian banks won’t fund oil and gas drilling in the refuge
Porcupine caribou graze in the Arctic National Refuge. Scotiabank is the latest of five Canadian banks to reject drilling in ANWR. (Malkolm Boothroyd)

Scotiabank is the latest of five Canadian banks to reject drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

“Recent policy changes have opened part of the ANWR to oil and gas exploration, and local Indigenous communities are concerned that development could threaten the fragility of the ecosystem and negatively impact their well-being,” Scotiabank stated in a recently updated financing policy.

“Scotiabank will not provide direct financing or project-specific financial and advisory services for activities that are directly related to the exploration, development or production of oil and gas within the Arctic Circle, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”

A similar policy was issued by the Canadian Imperial Commerce Bank (CIBC) in October, joining the Bank of Montreal, Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto Dominion Bank in rejecting drilling in the area.

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and Gwich’in Tribal Council released a statement applauding the banks’ decision on Dec. 14.

“By rejecting drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Canadian banks are supporting the protection of the Porcupine caribou and in turn supporting Canada’s value of the caribou as exemplified by its place on our quarter for nearly a century,” said Dana Tizya-Tramm, Vuntut Gwitchin Chief.

“Further, and more importantly, they are sending the message that the voices of the Elders of our Nation and the lives of the children and grandchildren of our Nation have value far greater than any potential oil and gas that may be present there. We are proud that we can stand here today together in success.”

The refuge is a calving ground for the Porcupine caribou herd, a breeding ground for polar bears and a home to hundreds of other animal species. The caribou are an important traditional food source for the Gwich’in people.

The Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and the Gwich’in Tribal Council, based in the Northwest Territories, have been campaigning for banks to boycott projects related to the development of the area.

Representatives from the First Nation, the Tribal Council and the Yukon Chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS Yukon) travelled to Toronto last December to meet with representatives from the five banks, which are the largest in Canada.

“Canadian banks were provided a clear understanding of the immense human, cultural, and environmental impacts and financial risks associated with development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as the U.S. administration progressed towards a lease sale,” says the joint statement.

A public campaign launched by CPAWS Yukon also resulted in 11,000 letters to bank CEOs, urging financing policies that would halt drilling in the refuge.

In a press release issued Dec. 14, CPAWS Yukon commended the “big five” Canadian banks on their anti-drilling policies.

“Dozens of banks from around the world have also refused to fund oil and gas development there, meaning that oil companies may be unable to finance drilling in the Arctic Refuge, even if they are successful in acquiring leases before the new administration takes over,” said the CPAWS statement.

Chris Rider, CPAWS executive director, praised the banks for their “courage and leadership” in standing up for the refuge.

According to the U.S. government, there are between four and 12 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the coastal plain area, which covers eight per cent of the refuge.

The Trump administration announced earlier this month that drilling rights would be auctioned off on Jan. 6. The sale date is set to take place before President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20.

The decision to lease the land for drilling already faces several lawsuits, including one from the Gwich’in Steering Committee.

Biden has publicly opposed oil and gas drilling in the refuge and called for permanent protection of the area, but he may not be able to overrule previously sold leases with new legislation after taking office.

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at