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Report: Natural-Gas Waste Above Average on Navajo Nation Lands

Oil and gas production on tribal lands generates royalty income to support public safety, education, infrastructure improvement and other projects. (Environmental Defense Fund)
Oil and gas production on tribal lands generates royalty income to support public safety, education, infrastructure improvement and other projects. (Environmental Defense Fund)
March 26, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Oil and gas companies operating on the Navajo Nation waste 5 percent of the natural gas they produce, a rate 65 percent higher than the national average, according to a new study.

The Environmental Defense Fund and its partners report the leakage of methane on tribal lands is also expensive. Gas wasted is estimated at more than $3 million a year, causing the Navajo Nation to lose out on royalties worth $850,000 per year. Laurie Weahkee, executive director of the Native American Voters Alliance, believes the Navajo Nation should exercise its tribal sovereignty and claim revenues it deserves.

"It really could be utilized for things that the Navajo Nation desperately needs - the infrastructure of our communities out there - that $3.4 million could really help,” Weahkee said.

The Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency is considering the adoption of an air-permitting program that could significantly reduce oil and gas methane waste.

Amber Reimondo, energy program director at the Grand Canyon Trust, said she also believes the Navajo Nation should continue to fight against damaging practices.

"Because somebody lives in a rural area, the idea that anybody's health is worth sacrificing is just absurd,” Reimondo said. “And so there's no reason for not doing it. And so we're really glad that the Navajo Nation is starting to take those steps."

Nearly 40 percent of residents in Navajo Nation communities live in poverty. And Diné Care organizer Carol Davis said the methane problem impacts the local economy.

"We definitely need to reap some economic benefits, especially in light of the fact that we're no longer going to be getting royalties from the power plant and coal mine from Navajo generating station and Kayenta mine,” Davis said. “We need to start looking for other economic opportunities."

The Navajo Generating Station is scheduled to close in December. New Mexico has joined a lawsuit to block the Trump administration's efforts to roll back an Obama-era environmental rule preventing the release of methane by U.S. oil and gas operators.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM