Bank of America has pledged not to fund oil and gas exploration in the Arctic, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Bank of America had faced backlash after every other major American bank had made pledges to stay out of the Arctic earlier this year, including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Chase, Wells Fargo, and Citi.
Arctic sea ice has been vanishing for decades due to the climate crisis. As the ice retreats, it makes more resources like oil and gas accessible for exploitation. Conservationists have argued that artic oil and gas need to stay in the ground to limit the planet's further warming. They are also concerned that resource exploitation in the region could be damaging to indigenous communities and wildlife.
Following his defeat in the presidential election, the administration of President Donald Trump has been rushing to auction off drilling sites in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) before President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated in January. In November, a notice posted to the Federal Register asked developers to submit requests for preferred drilling sites in the sanctuary.
The AWNR is home to endangered polar bears and is nearby the land of two Indigenous peoples. The Gwich'in call the ANWR the "sacred place where life begins" because it serves as a vast caribou nursery.
Bank of America faced pressure from Indigenous communities, environmental activists, and its own shareholders to rule out investing in any projects in the AWNR.
“There’s been misunderstanding around our position, but we have not historically participated in project finance for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic,” Larry Di Rita, head of public policy for the bank, told Bloomberg. “But given that misinterpretation, we’ve determined that it’s time to codify our existing practice into policy.”
Sierra Club, a nonprofit that pushes for solutions to the climate crisis, was among those pressuring Bank of America to make its stance clearer. Earlier in the year, the Sierra Club labelled Bank of America as “the only major U.S. bank not to rule out financing for the destruction of the Arctic refuge.”
“It has long been clear that drilling in the Arctic Refuge would trample Indigenous rights, threaten vulnerable wildlife, and worsen the climate crisis," Ben Cushing of Sierra Club said following the bank's announcement. "Now that every major American bank has stated unequivocally that they will not finance this destructive activity, it should be clearer than ever that any oil company considering participating in Trump’s ill-advised lease sale should stay away."
The Gwich’in Steering Committee, which represents Indigenous people in Alaska, also praised the bank's decision.
“The Trump administration has never even pretended to care about the Indigenous communities whose human rights would be threatened by the destruction of the coastal plain, but major financial institutions are listening to us,” said Executive Director Bernadette Demientieff in a statement. “We will never stop fighting to protect the sacred calving grounds from destructive drilling, and we will prevail.”