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BNP’s Bank of the West Draws Energy Industry Ire in Plan to Abandon Fossil Fuel Investments

BNP Paribas-owned Bank of the West (BW) is dealing with push back, locally and nationally, as it shifts policy to abandon fossil fuel investments.

Energy industry and local governments in oil and natural gas-producing states, including Colorado and Wyoming, reacted swiftly and negatively to the move by the San-Francisco-based bank.

Some local governments have said they will move investments to competitors. In Craig, CO, the BW branch manager resigned over the policy, ending a 27-year career with the bank.

France’s BNP last fall announced a global financing policy that excludes doing business with companies whose principal activity is the “exploration, production, distribution, marketing or trading of oil and gas from shale and/or oil from tar sands.”

Since then, BW said it would be "investing where we feel we can make the most impact" and said it would withdraw support for companies and business activities determined to be "detrimental to the environment and public health."

BW is the fifth largest bank in Colorado. In mid-2017, it had around $4.5 billion in deposits in California through its 75 branches. In Wyoming, where BW is the third largest bank with 24 branches, fossil fuels represent 70% of state revenues.

Colorado’s Moffat County Commission has decided to take its $25 million in local banking to other investment firms in their area.

Moffat County Commissioner Ray Beck called the BW policy shift "a slap in the face to the community and our employees; we're an energy-related county," which is Colorado's second largest in land mass (13,000 population and 4,700 square miles).

Beck said the county treasurer's office is looking for other banks to be used by Moffat in place of BW. "We have other money, but the majority of our funds are in the BW now," he said. "The damage has been done, we're not going to change our policy."

The West Slope chapter of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (WSCOGA) took a more measured approach, noting that while oil and gas activities are important to the local economy, BW employees also are part of the local community.

"It is likely our industry and community will respond with their dollars after BW took a public position against what we do for a living," said WSCOGA officials.

Officials hope BW will reconsider its position in light of the "benefits of oil and gas woven into our daily lives. BW employees are our friends and neighbors, and (the bank) is a valued member of our business community."

WSCOGA members don't see the new policies reflecting the values of Western Colorado's way of life. "In fact, it is obvious that the new policies were developed far away from the current realities of our community."

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