Wells Fargo Has a Choice to Make on Keystone XL & Tar Sands: Double Down or Divest?

It’s been a rough year for Wells Fargo. By now, you’ve probably heard about the bank’s ongoing consumer fraud scandal. Millions of fake accounts were created and millions of customers have been charged extra for products they didn’t even want. This fall, Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan came to Washington and testified before the US Senate to report on how the bank is trying to improve, and let’s just say it didn’t go so well.

Meanwhile, a growing movement across the country has been putting a spotlight on Wells Fargo and other big banks’ investments in dirty fuels and pipelines, and pushing cities, institutions, and individuals to divest and reinvest in community solutions. This year, Sierra Club members and supporters have sent more than 150,000 letters to Wells Fargo urging them to drop funding for Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and other dangerous pipelines. In addition, at least 25,000 have pledged to pull their own money from Wells Fargo and other big banks that fund fossil fuels.

Although they publicly tout their commitment to clean energy, Wells Fargo has significant investments in the fossil fuel industry that’s driving the global climate crisis. According to Wells Fargo’s own report from 2016, the bank has nearly $38 billion in loans and commitments to the oil and gas industry. Research earlier this year shows that Wells Fargo invested nearly $5 billion between 2014-16 in the most extreme forms of fossil fuels on the planet -- tar sands, Arctic oil, deepwater oil, coal, and liquified fracked gas. Furthermore, Wells Fargo and other major banks provide billions of dollars in financing to the companies behind all three remaining tar sands pipeline proposals: Keystone XL, Line 3, and TransMountain. Investments in these projects threaten Indigenous rights, our climate, and communities.

The bank has also come under fire for its history of predatory lending practices, particularly in low-income communities of color, and its financing of the growing private prison industry in the US. With all of this in mind, it seems clear that Wells Fargo has not been treating the planet or communities any better than they have treated their own customers.

Wells Fargo actually has a real opportunity right now to begin to repair its public image and start to unwind its financing for the dirtiest fuels on the planet. In one week, on December 15th, two loans totaling $1.5 billion that Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase and other banks provide to TransCanada, the company behind Keystone XL, will expire. Wells Fargo and these other banks can decide to renew these loans and continue with business as usual, or they can walk away and begin to reduce their investments in tar sands.

In just the past few weeks, they have been given more than enough reason to say #NoKXL. Last month, TransCanada’s original Keystone pipeline spilled more than 210,000 gallons of tar sands in South Dakota. A few days later, Nebraska regulators rejected TransCanada’s preferred route for Keystone XL, instead granting a conditional approval along a route the company claimed would be unworkable. TransCanada has also struggled to line up customers for the pipeline and many in the industry believe the project is unnecessary given a lack of market demand for more tar sands. In the week following the decision in Nebraska, 45,000 Sierra Club supporters sent a letter telling Wells Fargo to drop funding for TransCanada.

And just last week, I joined more than 100 Sierra Club supporters, our partners and other activists in San Francisco for a rally at Wells Fargo’s global headquarters calling on the bank to cease all funding of Keystone XL and other tar sands pipelines. We heard from a diverse lineup of powerful speakers that described the impacts of fossil fuel investments on Indigenous rights, our climate and health, as well as Wells Fargo’s role in predatory lending and private prisons. Each voice made it abundantly clear why Wells Fargo needs to be held accountable and how they must change now.

Wells Fargo divest rally

After the rally, we personally delivered our more than 150,000 letters urging Wells Fargo to divest from Keystone XL and other pipelines to a representative from Wells Fargo.

Wells Fargo divest rally

Now the question is what Wells Fargo will choose to do. We know that they cannot fix all of their problems and undo all of their harmful investments overnight, but Wells Fargo does face a clear decision about their role in funding tar sands and the Keystone XL pipeline right now: double down or divest?

We will be watching closely what Wells Fargo does in the coming week and we hope that they do the right thing. If they do not, we promise to be back at their doorstep soon.

Take action: if you haven’t done so already, tell Wells Fargo not to fund Keystone XL!

Wells Fargo divest rally

 This blog post has been updated with new data.

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