French bank BNP sells its share in $2.5 billion Dakota pipeline loan

FILE PHOTO - Eighteen oil pumpjacks are seen on a Hess well pad near Tioga, North Dakota April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen/File Photo

(Reuters) - BNP Paribas SA BNPP.PA said Wednesday it has sold its $120 million share of the loan for the Dakota Access Pipeline, becoming the second bank to divest from the project that faced opposition from Native Americans and environmentalists.

The move by the French bank follows the announcement made last month by Dutch bank ING Groep NV INGA.AS, which said it wanted to send "a valuable message" by selling its $120 million share of a $2.5 billion loan from 17 banks and called for "respectful dialogue" with tribes in future infrastructure project transactions.

President Donald Trump approved the $3.7 billion pipeline in February, reversing the prior administration which had blocked it last December with a decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Energy Transfer Partners LP ETP.N, which operates the 1,100-mile (1,770-km) pipeline, has begun filling the line with crude and could reach full operating capacity by late April, based on industry estimates.

Energy Transfer was not immediately available for comment.

BNP said it made the decision after a review of the project and consulting with all of its stakeholders.

“The sale of our stake signals the importance of full and detailed consultation on projects that impact large numbers of stakeholders,” the bank said in a statement.

After the pipeline was approved, lingering protestors cleared the encampment occupied since August at the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.

Some protesters have turned their focus to divestment campaigns targeting banks with a stake in the pipeline. Cities such as Seattle and San Francisco have divested from Dakota-invested banks.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker