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Big Bank Adopts Groundbreaking Oil Sands Lending Policy, but Will It Have Teeth?

A leading oil sands lender adopts policy language considered the gold standard for protecting rights of indigenous peoples, but is it just rhetoric?

By Stacy Feldman

Jan 6, 2011
mining equipment

During a shareholders meeting in early 2009, Nixon stated that oil sands concerns were "not a bank issue." Similarly, in a , Nixon said FPIC was "impractical" and is not on the table.

Owen of RBC said the recent policy shift is not a sign the bank is stepping away from oil sands investments but rather a natural evolution of longtime environmental risk management practices.

"We don't see a tradeoff between being a leading lender and a leader at risk management," he said.

According to by RAN, RBC is the No. 1 financier of oil sands, raising $16.9 billion for companies operating in the Alberta oil sands patch from 2007 to 2009, a figure the bank hotly disputes.  

True Test Will Be Enbridge Pipeline

As one of the world's biggest banks and backers of oil and gas, RBC has long been the target of progressive groups.

At its annual shareholder meeting last year, First Nations representatives pressed Nixon to adopt an FPIC standard. and filed shareholder resolutions.

In the last two years, dozens of protests were held at bank branches. RAN and others met with officials, including Barbara Stymiest, RBC's chief operating officer, who visited the group's San Francisco headquarters.

The real test of RBC's commitment will come in the coming months when energy firm Enbridge issues bonds to finance its $5.5 billion , which is still awaiting federal approval. 

Terry Teegee, vice tribal chief of the eight-nation of British Columbia, said that if RBC finances Enbridge or others involved, its "promises will ring hollow."

The 730-mile twin pipelines would carry 525,000 barrels of crude per day from Alberta to a proposed supertanker terminal in the British Columbia port town of Kitimat. It would crisscross territories claimed by 50 First Nations, 1,000 streams, rivers and some important salmon-breeding streams.

More than 60 First Nations, the , a group representing local governments, and others have signed resolutions against the pipelines.

"Without First Nation consent, it is safe to say this project is dead in the water," irrespective of what RBC does, Teegee said.

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