Pressure Mounts on Oil Companies and Banks to Reject Arctic Drilling

May 30, 2019

At Annual Meetings, Shareholders and Activists Push for Pledge to Stay Out of the Arctic Refuge

As major financial institutions and oil companies gathered over the last six weeks for their annual general meetings, they faced questions and protests from shareholders and activists urging them not to engage in or give financial support for drilling in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. According to recent comments by Department of the Interior official Joe Balash, the Trump administration aims to hold the first lease sale in the coastal plain before the end of this year.

“Drilling in the Arctic Refuge would permanently destroy the primary food source of the Gwich’in people, our culture, and our way of life,” said Gwich’in Steering Committee Executive Director Bernadette Demientieff. “The Trump administration may not care, but the American people do, and they do not want to see this sacred place ruined. Any oil company or bank that supports this destruction will have to answer to the Gwich’in and to the millions of Americans who stand with us.”

In the wake of new revelations about BP’s previously unreported lobbying efforts in favor of opening up the delicate coastal plain for drilling, protesters descended on their annual shareholder meeting in Scotland as well as at the company’s US headquarters in Denver. Chevron, which has similarly voiced support for Arctic drilling, faced a crowd of protestors outside its shareholder meeting in San Ramon, California. ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil also received questions inside each of their meetings about their plans for the Arctic Refuge. Protesters and shareholders at each meeting cited the climate risk of a massive new investment in fossil fuel extraction in the Arctic Refuge, as well as the threat to the human rights of the Gwich’in people, who have relied on the land and wildlife there for their survival and way of life for thousands of years.

Oil companies weren’t alone in having to answer for their plans for involvement in Arctic drilling. Following policy changes by international banks, including Barclays and National Australia Bank, to explicitly rule out financing for drilling in the Arctic Refuge, activists pressed top American banks including Citi, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley to follow suit.

“Major banks and oil companies will continue hearing from the public and their shareholders loud and clear that the Arctic Refuge is no place for drilling,” said Sierra Club Campaign Representative Ben Cushing. “Pursuing drilling in this unique wilderness would be bad for the environment, bad for human rights, and bad for their bottom line. The public is watching and demanding that these companies commit to staying out of the Arctic Refuge.”

The overwhelming majority of the American people oppose drilling in the refuge. Some of the world’s most significant investors have also warned against leasing there, citing financial and reputational risk. Already, a plan by SAExploration to conduct destructive seismic testing for oil — the first step toward drilling — has been delayed by as much as a year after a powerful public backlash and fear of litigation set back the administration’s permitting process. As a result, any oil company that participates in a lease sale this summer will be bidding blind, without information about what they’re buying or whether there might be oil under the 1.6 million acres of the coastal plain.

“Indigenous leaders from Alaska traveled thousands of miles to tell their stories of life near the Arctic Refuge. From California, to New York, to Scotland, these leaders made clear that drilling in the Arctic Refuge is an unacceptable act that flies in the face of the rights of the Gwich’in,” said Matt Krogh, Extreme Oil Campaign Director with Stand.Earth. “Banks and investors have seen what happens when an oil company dares to go against the will of the people and trample the rights of Indigenous peoples whose lands we have stolen. We saw it with the Dakota Access Pipeline, we saw it with the Keystone Pipeline, and we saw it with the Trans Mountain Pipeline. The only right thing to do is to leave the Refuge in peace.”

For photos or video from the meetings and rallies, or interviews with spokespeople, contact Gabby Brown at