6 Banks Behind the Mountain Valley Pipeline
Residents of Virginia and West Virginia opened up a new front Thursday in their fight to stop the 301-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline: targeting the major U.S. "main street" banks on tap to finance the fracked-gas project's $3.5 billion price tag.
Landowners along the pipeline route are calling on customers to move their money out of the top six U.S. banks behind the pipeline—led by Bank of America and Wells Fargo. The banks are identified in a new analysis released today by Oil Change International that examines how the pipeline will be financed.
The landowner and citizens' groups Bold Appalachia and Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (POWHR) launched Thursday's call to action and are planning an upcoming "Defund MVP" week of action in Virginia and West Virginia from June 19 to June 23.
"Now is the time to pull out our pocketbooks, put our money where our mouth is and divest from the banks financing this pipeline," said Carolyn Reilly, a regional pipeline fighter with Bold Alliance whose farm is in the path of the proposed pipeline in Rocky Mount, Virginia.
"The Mountain Valley Pipeline is focused solely on making money, setting private financial interest as the top priority. As farmers and landowners, we say 'no' to a greedy system that supports eminent domain for private gain while threatening our clean water and land."
The "Defund MVP" campaign joins a growing movement of communities, tribes and cities across North America that are targeting the financing behind dirty pipeline projects, from Dakota Access to Keystone XL, and putting increasing pressure on major banks to move money flows away from risky fossil fuel projects that threaten the climate and communities.
The Oil Change analysis draws a direct link between the banks providing corporate-level financing to pipeline company EQT Midstream Partners (EQM) and the money that will fuel the Mountain Valley Pipeline. EQM, the main driver of the project and the largest investor in it, plans to rely on corporate-level financing, rather than direct loans, to fund the pipeline.
"Our analysis shows that Bank of America and Wells Fargo are signed up to funnel the most money into this polluting pipeline," said Lorne Stockman, a senior research analyst at Oil Change International who co-authored the briefing. "These same banks are embroiled in a backlash over their funding for the Dakota Access Pipeline and major tar sands pipelines. The Mountain Valley Pipeline is another black eye. The customer backlash will not let up unless banks heed the call to defund dirty pipelines."
Bank of America is providing more than $141 million in funding to EQM while Wells Fargo is the lead arranger of the company's credit facility. PNC, SunTrust, Bank of the West (via parent company BNP Paribas) and U.S. Bank are also significant investors in EQM's key sources of pipeline finance. While U.S. Bank recently pledged to end project-level loans for oil and gas pipelines, it remains a key corporate-level financer of EQM and several other pipeline companies.
The Oil Change briefing also notes that two banks with significant customer bases across Virginia—Union Bank & Trust and BB&T—are providing a comparatively small but direct loan to the Mountain Valley Pipeline through Roanoke-based RGC Midstream.
"The Mountain Valley Pipeline route is going through the middle of my property, Doe Creek Farm," said Georgia Haverty of Giles County, Virginia. "There are four businesses that would be directly and adversely affected. I will never put a cent of any of my businesses in BB&T, Bank of America, Wells Fargo or Union Bank & Trust. I will also post signs calling out all of these banks for the thousands of visitors and customers who visit each year and who love this land. They need to know."
The Mountain Valley Pipeline would open up a new spigot to increase the flow of gas from fracking operations in the Appalachian Basin. It threatens communities' drinking water, pristine forests, farms and historic places along the route from northwestern West Virginia to south central Virginia. A previous Oil Change analysis showed the project would be responsible for close to 90 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, equivalent to 26 coal plants or 19 million vehicles on the road.
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A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
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