While the city still plans to sever financial ties with Wells Fargo over the Dakota Access Pipeline, it won’t take up the bank’s offer to find a new partner now.

Share story

Breaking up is hard to do, the city of Seattle has discovered.

Despite pleas from opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline for the city to find a new bank — to punish Wells Fargo as a lender to the project — the separation isn’t going to be speedy.

The City Council on a unanimous vote last month passed legislation requesting that Mayor Ed Murray not renew the contract with Wells Fargo when it expires at the end of next year.

Wells Fargo responded by telling city officials that there’s no need to wait. If they really think the bank doesn’t reflect the city’s values, well, go on then. Leave. With no penalties, and help from Wells Fargo to find a new bank for city payments.

But on Friday, Mayor Ed Murray, Council President Bruce Harrell and Councilmember Tim Burgess sent a letter to bank officials saying the city would honor its existing contract, then find a new bank.

“The complexity of banking services used by the city will require a lengthy process to secure a new vendor,” the three city officials wrote. “A gradual transition is needed to allow for time to identify and develop a new banking contract.”

The current contract with Wells Fargo began Jan. 1, 2013, and extends through Dec. 31, 2018, with the option of five additional one-year extensions.

The city cycles about $3 billion a year through Wells Fargo — all the revenue the city receives, even from parking meters. The city’s average daily balance in the bank has been about $10 million over the past six months, according to Wells Fargo.

Pipeline ready for oil

Hiring a new bank is likely to cost city taxpayers more: Wells Fargo was the low bidder on the contract to manage city deposits.

Meanwhile construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline is nearly complete. Developer Energy Transfer Partners in federal court documents has indicated it expects oil to be flowing in the pipeline by next week.

The news from Seattle officials came on a day when the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe organized a march in Washington, D.C., and a march in solidarity was held in Seattle.

“Things take time, I understand they have a lot of logistics to deal with,” said Millie Kennedy, in the Metlakatla Indian Community who organized Friday’s march in Seattle, and supported the city legislation.

“This is just the beginning of a big movement that started in Standing Rock,” she said. “We are rising for Standing Rock, but we are also rising for the people everywhere.”

The opposition to Standing Rock was part of growing movement by indigenous nations and their allies against continued fossil-fuel development, including the Trans Mountain Expansion, a tar sands pipeline recently approved by the Canadian government to go from Alberta to Edmonton.

Washington tribes and First Nations are already heavily involved in that fight.

Fight moves to D.C.

Meanwhile the battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline has shifted from resistance on the ground in North Dakota — protest camps there were recently closed by heavily-armed police — to federal courtrooms in Washington, D.C.

The Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes’ lawsuit to stop the pipeline argues the tribes were not adequately consulted before construction and that the pipeline endangers their water supply. An environmental review of the pipeline begun under the Obama Administration and abruptly stopped by the Trump Administration should be resumed, the tribes argue.

Jan Hasselman of Earthjustice in Seattle, attorney for the Standing Rock Sioux, noted that even if the flow of oil is started in the pipeline, if the tribe prevails in its case, a judge can turn the pipeline off.

Energy Transfer Partners argues the more than 1,000-mile pipeline is the most economic way to transport oil from the western oil fields in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, where the line connects with other pipelines and refineries, and that it is safer than trucks or trains.

Seattle took own stand

While other jurisdictions have punished Wells Fargo for its scandal over the practice of creating millions of fraudulent bank and credit-card accounts, Seattle is the first to make the pipeline a major reason for severing ties with the bank.