Environmental Defense Fund and several conservation partners today released a report revealing the scale of natural gas waste on Navajo Nation lands. The report’s analysis, conducted by Environmental Defense Fund, finds that oil and gas companies operating on the Navajo Nation waste about 5.2 percent of the natural gas they produce - a rate 65 percent higher than the national average. That results in $3.4 million of lost Navajo Nation gas and up to $895,000 in forgone royalty payments.
The analysis leverages data collected by the Western Regional Air Partnership (WRAP) on emissions from production sites in the San Juan Basin, as well as EDF’s 2017 statewide New Mexico methane inventory for additional information on midstream emissions.
Since the 1920’s, oil and gas production on tribal lands has been an important revenue stream for the Navajo Nation and generates tax and royalty income to support public safety, education, infrastructure improvement and other projects. Unfortunately, the disproportionate amount of gas wasted by oil and gas companies results in significant consequences for Navajo communities’ economies, environment and health. As the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency considers new air pollution rules, this underscores the positive impact they could deliver.
“As this analysis makes clear, methane waste and other pollution are hitting Navajo communities particularly hard,” said Jon Goldstein, director of legislative and regulatory affairs at Environmental Defense Fund. “Luckily the Navajo Nation has an opportunity to enact tribal requirements and fill the gap left by the rollback of federal methane rules. We support the development of strong rules to protect the resources and wellbeing of the Navajo Nation.”
Methane is the primary component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas that is responsible for 25 percent of the global warming we experience today. The 13,000 tons of natural gas methane emitted by companies on Navajo Nation lands has the same climate impact as 235,000 vehicles per year.
According to Amber Reimondo, Energy Program director at Grand Canyon Trust, “this analysis highlights the opportunity before the Navajo Nation to safeguard its revenue, public health and climate. Under the Nez administration, the Navajo Nation is already taking steps to seize this opportunity and we look forward to offering our support.”
Avoidable methane emissions are often accompanied by harmful co-pollutants that threaten public health. These include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a precursor to ozone and smog that can harm respiratory health and trigger asthma attacks. Ozone levels in San Juan County, where much Navajo Nation oil and gas production is based, are dangerously close to surpassing health safety standards for ozone. This puts local communities’ health and wellbeing at risk.
“When oil and gas companies emit pollution into our air, they damage our environment and threaten our health,” said Adella Begaye, executive director of Diné CARE. “Securing the Navajo Nation’s wellbeing means stopping wasteful emissions like methane and the harmful chemicals that so often come with it.
“Strong rules to prevent methane waste would not only honor and preserve our resources, they would mean significantly more revenue for both the Navajo Nation and allottees,” she added. “We must defend the lands we depend on and recognize the health and economic benefits that come with responsible action.”
The Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency is currently considering new rules to limit air pollution and has the authority to require companies to curb high emission and waste levels. As the Trump administration rolls back federal pollution protections, such as the Bureau of Land Management waste rule, high levels of methane waste and associated pollution are harming tribal communities. This is an important opportunity for the Navajo Nation to stop the waste of its energy resources, curb climate emission and safeguard the health of its people while reaffirming its sovereignty.
“The federal government under the Trump administration has abandoned the role of good steward, and the Navajo Nation must act where it can to protect its resources and its people from unfair exploitation,” said Laurie Weahkee, president of the Native American Voters Alliance.She added that, “without federal protections from the Bureau of Land Management’s waste rule or EPA’s methane rule, it’s up to us to affirm our autonomy and protect our communities – stopping methane waste does both.”
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