From Texas to Colorado to Scotland, ANWR drilling opponents take their case to CEOs

A small crowd shouting “BP, back off!” marched on BP’s American headquarters in Denver on Monday, demanding the oil conglomerate not drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

It’s part of a larger effort by environmental groups to target oil companies and also banks.

While the demonstration in Denver was underway, an architect of the broader strategy was on a long-distance train, traversing the length of the United Kingdom.

“We are going through the countryside of Scotland at the moment, so we might lose reception or go through a tunnel or something,” said Sierra Club Campaign Representative Ben Cushing.

He’s normally based in Washington, D.C., but BP’s annual shareholder meeting this year is in Aberdeen, in Northeastern Scotland, so that’s where he was headed. With him was Bernadette Demientieff, an anti-drilling activist from Fort Yukon. They or other ANWR drilling opponents will be at the annual meetings of four major oil companies, and Cushing says they’ve set their sights on lenders, too.

Bernadette Demientieff, director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, testified at a U.S. House hearing in March. Photo: Liz Ruskin

“Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Citi, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley: We’ll be attending the shareholder meetings of all six of those banks this shareholder season and asking them point blank if they will commit to not investing in Arctic Refuge drilling,” Cushing said.

Cushing said they’ve got proxy status, thanks to a few owners of stock who agreed to let the activists represent their shares. It allows them to confront company executives directly, in the Q-and-A portion of the shareholder meeting.

“I know it’s hard for people who live in a city like Houston to understand what our lives are like, or why this place means so much to us,” Demientieff said in Texas last week, as she made her case to ConocoPhillips’ chief executive officer at that shareholder meeting. She’s the executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, a U.S.-Canadian Indigenous advocacy group. The Gwich’in leaders argue drilling in the Arctic Refuge could devastate the Porcupine caribou herd that’s central to their culture and subsistence lifestyle.

“We have lived in this area for thousands of years. Don’t take that from us,” she pleaded. “You have the ability to stop this, or at least you not going in there.”

Conoco CEO Ryan Lance was polite and didn’t show his cards. He said he understands the importance of subsistence hunting and told Demientieff ConocoPhillips has a good record in the Arctic.

“Appreciate your coming today. Appreciate your passionate plea as well, so thank you,” Lance told her.

Alaska Oil and Gas Association President Kara Moriarity said if oil companies were scared off by demonstrators and activists, Alaska would not have had an oil industry to start with.

“Companies make decisions on where they want to invest and develop on a variety of factors, and (the Gwich’in Steering Committee’s) demonstration of their position is nothing new,” Moriarity said.

Demientieff says she believes drilling opponents will make a difference at the meetings, in part by getting the attention of shareholders.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story provided the wrong hometown for Demientieff.