How Standing Rock Is Forcing Oil Investors to Consider Human Rights

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

Some shareholders want to see oil companies take human rights into greater consideration when choosing what projects to finance. And the stark police brutality against the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe during its protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline in 2016 is why.

A group of shareholders with the Marathon Petroleum Corporation, a major U.S. oil company that has a $500 million stake in the controversial interstate crude oil project, is asking the company to consider a resolution on human rights—especially those of indigenous peoples. Trillium Asset Management filed this resolution earlier this year with the nonprofit Ceres, which aims to make investments more sustainable and just.

In the filing, the stakeholders request Marathon prepare a report that would break down how the company currently analyzes a project’s social and environmental risks and whether Marathon is down to change these processes in the future. The concern, according to the resolution, is the way ignoring these impacts could affect a project’s image and, ultimately, result in economic loss. It offers Marathon the suggestion of using the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a template, which makes clear that free, prior, and informed consent should be acquired before the approval of any project.


The issue isn’t just with particular projects, though. It’s also about the companies with which Marathon does business—like, say, Energy Transfer Partners, the developer of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The resolution notes the company’s “poor environmental record” and its growing stack of lawsuits across the country.

This isn’t the first time stakeholders have attempted to get Marathon to change its practices. Last year, the New York State Comptroller filed a similar resolution, but nothing came out of it. And, as InsideClimate News reports, this year’s resolution is just one out of more than 24 that are trying to change the way oil and gas companies conduct business—like Enbridge Inc. and Chevron.

Morton County Sheriff’s Department and pipeline opponents clash in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, November 20, 2016, the night Sophia Wilansky was injured. Photo: AP
Morton County Sheriff’s Department and pipeline opponents clash in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, November 20, 2016, the night Sophia Wilansky was injured. Photo: AP

Humans rights abuses related to fossil fuel development have been gaining more and more attention since Standing Rock hit the mainstream in 2016. The fallout of the standoff between protestors, who call themselves “water protectors,” and law enforcement continues more than a year later. Sophia Wilansky, a 22 year old whose arm was nearly blasted off during a protest in November 2016 that police violently responded to with water hoses and concussion grenades, filed a lawsuit against the FBI on Tuesday to receive evidence she alleges the bureau took illegally.


Wilanksy is just one example—and an extreme one at that. Stakeholders, however, are starting to realize that the lengths oil and gas companies are willing to go for their projects could impact their bottom line. Money talks, after all, doesn’t it?

[h/t InsideClimate News]


Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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A little financial information gathering from the horse’s mouth - ETP’s website:

The Bakken Pipeline is a joint venture between Energy Transfer Partners with a 38.25 percent interest, MarEn Bakken Company LLC (“MarEn”) with a 36.75 percent interest, and Phillips 66 Partners with a 25 percent interest. MarEn is an entity owned by MPLX LP and Enbridge Energy Partners L.P.

MPLX is a Marathon oil company. Dakota Access is now called Bakken Pipeline, I guess.

My point is that these midstream pipeline ownerships are typically structured as master limited partnerships or MLPs. MLPs are structure so partners take the reward and others take the risk. I’m not sure how much influence Ceres has on Bakken pipeline justice issues. Maybe if they can get in early with social and environmental justice issues as the MLP contract is being written. After the fact, who knows? I know only when thing, investors don’t want oil not flowing through the pipeline.